Cross-Channel traffic smooth in France as Brexit kicks in

Calais (France) (AFP) –


Scores of heavy goods vehicles early Friday passed through the Channel Tunnel connecting Britain and France "without any problem", its operator said, dispelling fears of immediate snarl-ups as Brexit took effect.

Almost 200 lorries crossed into France and left the country for the UK after Britain formally left the EU customs union and single market at midnight in the final act of its exit from the European Union, operator Getlink said.

"The traffic was strong enough for an exceptional and historic night, everything went well," a spokesperson for the group told AFP.

"All the trucks completed the formalities" required by the fact Britain is no longer part of the EU customs union. "None of the lorries were sent back," the spokesperson said.

French officials have insisted that disruption at the frontier in Calais in northern France is being minimised by a so-called "smart border". Hauliers are required to enter information about their freight online in advance with only a rapid scan needed at the border.

Once this is done the trucks can either be waved through with a green light or subjected to extra checks if given an orange one.

Officials also say that British businesses have also stockpiled for January, which is also a relatively quiet month with little activity after Christmas.

The first vehicle to pass through heading for Britain was a heavy goods vehicle from Romania carrying post and parcels, which was symbolically given the go-ahead by Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart.

"I am very happy, it is a privilege for me," said its driver Toma Moise, 62.

Bouchart, who pressed the button allowing the lorry to leave, said it was a "historic moment" adding that going back to customs checks after the UK's near half century of EU membership "will have consequences whose range we don't yet know".

- 'Don't fear Brexit' -

There had been immense bottlenecks of traffic after France briefly closed the border in late December when a new coronavirus variant was found in Britain.

But with all drivers coming in now taking tests before entering France, the backlog was cleared just in time for the completion of Brexit.

The first to submit to a check on entering France was a lorry driven by Ukrainian Viktor who smiled and noted that "colleagues from England said 'congratulations' to me, because I'm the first driver".

The first lorries entering France on ferries leaving England for Calais were due later in the morning, after a lull overnight due to the New Year.

Calais port president Jean-Marc Puissesseau said Thursday that officials were relaxed about the new arrangements after carrying out dry runs and investing 13 million euros ($15.6 million).

"We regret Brexit, but we don't fear it... We are at ease because for three years now we have been able to perfect everything we've prepared," Puissesseau said.