Action disrupts Calais port ahead of Brexit

Lorries backed up on the A16 motorway between Dunkirk and Calais on 4 MarchImage copyright

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The work-to-rule action began on Monday but unions said it would be “unlimited”

Traffic jams built up on Tuesday around the French port of Calais as customs officers worked to rule, carrying out tighter checks on lorries heading for the Channel Tunnel and the ferry port.

The action, which began on Monday, is aimed at improving pay and staff numbers ahead of the UK’s expected departure from the EU on 29 March.

Dunkirk, further up the French coast, is also affected.

“Brexit is a catalyst for deeper anger,” said one union official.

How bad is the congestion?

The A16 motorway near Calais was snarled up close to the ferry port as well as the Channel Tunnel exit, and freight companies warned of major queues at border checkpoints.

For a second day, tailbacks of lorries stretched for several kilometres but ordinary traffic was still able to move.

Drone footage from one TV reporter showed the extent of the queues near the Channel Tunnel.

Ferry operator DFDS said 100% border checks had stopped at Calais but waiting time was more than three hours with traffic being diverted through the town.

While waiting times at Dunkirk were only about an hour, every lorry was still being checked, the operator said.

Drivers hooted in frustration and Calais officials said they were setting up holding areas to deal with the weight of traffic.

As lorries came to a standstill there were reports that migrants had tried to board the vehicles to get across the Channel.

What led to the work to rule?

Union officials said their “unlimited” action was aimed at “showing what will happen with Brexit”, when the UK leaves the European Union.

The possibility of a no-deal Brexit has led to fears of major disruption on both sides of the Channel.

The French government has announced plans to increase the number of customs officers in response to Brexit. The 300 deployed at the Channel Tunnel will be increased to 365 while the 64 at Calais port will almost double.

But union officials say they want bigger numbers recruited because of Brexit, as well as better night pay and danger money.

“If the UK becomes a third country, checks will become more in-depth. This is the first, full demonstration of what will happen,” said CGT union official Philippe Bollengier.

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Media captionUp to 90 lorries assembled at Manston airfield as part of a no-deal Brexit exercise

The head of French customs, Rodolphe Gintz, said he was astonished by the “work-to-rule strike”. He insisted that France would be ready for 29 March, with the aim of protecting French territory rather than controlling what leaves France and also maintaining the flow and security of traffic.

The British government has also sought to allay fears, promising that lorries coming into the UK will be able to drive straight off ferries and Channel Tunnel trains by filling in a frontier declaration beforehand.

In January, UK officials staged an exercise involving a convoy of 89 lorries at a disused airport in Kent as part of its contingency plans.

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