A Perth haulier has branded an impending no-deal Brexit and a Covid-19 ban by France on UK lorries “disastrous”.
George McLaughlan, owner of Perth-based McLaughlan Transport, said the double-whammy could leave him with no route overseas.
France’s decision to ban lorries carrying freight from the UK has suddenly left 10,000 of the vehicles which use the route daily with nowhere to go.
The move was taken to try to prevent the new variant coronavirus strain seen in the south of the UK from reaching the country.
McLaughlan Transport, which employs 50 people, regularly transports goods through France but primarily uses the Hull to Rotterdam ferry route.
Mr McLaughlin said companies operating the Dutch route have already announced cuts to services after the Brexit transition period ends on January 1. France’s decision to block UK arrivals means he has no viable back-up.
He said: “Fortunately, six weeks ago to get the space, I pre-booked ferries from Hull to Rotterdam.
“Since then, though, I’ve been told that service will be changing to a boat that is 50% smaller after Christmas.
“It’s going to affect us greatly.
“Obviously, we can’t go out through France because that’s blocked. That would usually be our second option.
“We have one booking for this week and one for next week. We are optimistic ferry companies will honour those but beyond that, it is anyone’s guess.
“We have to accept the Covid situation is not man-made. The Brexit situation, however, was made against the will of the people of Scotland to the benefit only of political appointees.”
His concerns have been backed up by James Withers, chief executive at Scotland Food & Drink, who says the situation will have massive implications for Scottish food and drink suppliers.
He has implored the UK Government to take urgent action to allow access to the critically-important market for Scottish food and drink exports.
He says the ban on freight travelling must be ended, with Scottish suppliers facing enormous losses at a time when their businesses are already suffering due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: “We need the ban on freight moving across the English Channel lifted in the next 24 hours so products can start moving by this morning at the latest.
“We have heard from companies with dozens of lorries now stuck, having travelled overnight to Dover or the Eurotunnel which are now shut to incoming traffic.
“They are carrying perishable products worth millions and the clock is ticking for that product to survive these delays. We estimate there will be more than £5 million of Scottish food that would be been heading into France daily this week.
“The timing of this could scarcely be worse for many businesses. There are critically-important markets scheduled for tomorrow in France and Spain as part of the big pre-Christmas sales rush. As things stand, Scottish seafood exports will not reach them, which will compound the losses businesses have already suffered as a result of Covid this year.
“We are also aware of some red meat shipments affected. In addition, businesses importing ingredients and fresh products will be hugely concerned if this lasts longer than 48 hours and incoming freight is disrupted because drivers won’t risk getting stuck in the UK.
“I entirely understand the concerns of France and others about this new strain of Covid-19. We’re all worried about it. However, France stands alone in introducing a freight ban, other EU countries have just focused on restricting the travel of the general public. We need the UK Government to urgently agree a protocol for freight movements, with perhaps the testing of drivers able to provide the necessary reassurance.”
According to the Scottish Government’s export figures, which were released last week, France remains the single largest importer of Scottish food and drink products.
Exports to France for the first nine months of 2020 are already down 11.3% on the same period the previous year.
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