Supermarkets may soon run low on salad leaves and citrus fruits thanks to a 48-hour ban on lorries crossing the Channel to France, Sainsbury’s has said.
The UK’s second-largest supermarket said that cauliflower and broccoli could also be out of stock in some stores but sought to reassure shoppers that supplies of most Christmas goods were already in the country so would not be affected.
On Sunday night France imposed a ban on all accompanied freight entering from the UK in response to fears that a new variant of Covid-19 may spread faster than previous ones.
On Monday, French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari raised hopes of swift resolution, saying: “In the next few hours, at European level, we’re going to establish a solid health protocol to ensure that movement from the UK can resume.
“Our priority: to protect our nationals and our fellow citizens.”
The route into Kent supplies around a fifth of the UK’s imported good according to Grant Shapps, the transport secretary. Much of that is fresh produce which cannot be grown in the UK in winter.
Thousands of lorries expected to leave for France on Monday have been told to stay away from Kent ports.
A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “All products for the Great British Christmas lunch are already in the country and we have plenty of these.
“If nothing changes, we will start to see gaps over the coming days on lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit – all of which are imported from the Continent at this time of year.”
Mr Shapps labelled France’s decision as “slightly surprising”, telling Sky News: “But it’s not the mainstay. Most goods actually come in and out by unaccompanied containers and those will continue to flow.”
Asked about what the shortages could be, Mr Shapps said: “Obviously we don’t want these links to be closed for too long, but it’s not unusual for them to be closed and disrupted.
“In the short term it’s not a specific problem. But of course the key is to get it resolved.”
While the majority of freight moving across the Channel is shipped unaccompanied, almost all of the goods that go through the port of Dover are driven across in vehicles.
Backlogs had already been building up as companies built up stockpiles during the Christmas rush and ahead of the Brexit deadline on 31 December.
Andrew Opie, director of food & sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said:“While goods can enter from France, few haulage firms will be willing to send trucks and drivers across to the UK without a guarantee they can return to the EU in a timely manner.
“This is a key supply route for fresh produce at this time of year: the channel crossings see 10,000 trucks passing daily during peak periods such as in the run up to Christmas.”
The chief executive of the Road Haulage Association (RHA), Richard Burnett, said the disruption could cause problems with “fresh food supply” in the run-up to Christmas.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “With it being so close to Christmas we’re looking at 48 hours at this point in time in terms of the restrictions, we’re likely to see Operation Stack building in terms of numbers of vehicles on the UK side and that might be a deterrent for EU hauliers to want to come so close to Christmas and end up being stranded here, that’s part of the challenge that we’re facing today.”
Among the authorities imposing travel restrictions on passengers from the UK are: France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Denmark, El Salvador, Turkey, Canada and Hong Kong.