Scotland Food & Drink says critical to lift Channel freight blockade within 24-hours

Following last night’s news of freight restrictions into continental Europe via France, James Withers, Chief Executive at trade association, Scotland Food & Drink, has implored the UK Government to take urgent action to allow access to the critically important market for Scottish food and drink exports.

Withers said, “We need the ban on freight moving across the English Channel lifted in the next 24 hours so products can start moving by Tuesday 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 over £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 Wednesday in France and Spain as part of the big pre-Christmas sales rush.'

Withers continued, '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 focussed on restriction 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.

“This latest development must result in a Brexit rethink too. For two months we have been calling for a delay to new Brexit checks on exports. The UK Government has to recognise that we are in the midst of a perfect storm and to risk further disruption and financial damage to businesses in just 10 days’ time is completely unacceptable.'

Withers ended, 'The new checks due to come into force at the end of the transition period must now be delayed. Everything has changed.”

According to the Scottish Government’s export figures (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 the year.

In 2019, Scotland sold £1.2bn of food to the EU, the majority of which went through English Channel routes facing the current blockage.