Dover and Calais are facing “economic catastrophe” because of Brexit, and both the UK and the EU are allowing the two ports to drift towards disaster, a leading French politician has said.
Xavier Bertrand, a former French minister and president of Hauts-de-France, has called on Emmanuel Macron to break the EU ban on bilateral talks to salvage the situation and have direct negotiations with Theresa May.
“The way things are going, we are going to be left standing staring at each other like strangers. It’s madness, pure utter madness,” he said.
He believes the challenge facing the ports and Eurotunnel, which are used by 16,000 trucks a day, is just as important as the Irish border, yet does not get the same attention.
His intervention comes as the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, prepares to tell all member states to step up their planning for no deal, at a meeting on Friday.
Bertrand believes this does not go far enough and that talks need to swiftly move to local planning or time will have run out for practical contingencies including border inspection posts and customs clearance checks.
“If there are delays of two minutes there will be queues of 27km on both sides – that’s 54km [34 miles]. Even at the moment you see queues of 1km to the tunnel – and that is where there are no checks. Imagine what it will be like with checks,” he said. “We need to pressurise the French parliament and President Macron of the need to talk to the UK directly.”
He acknowledged this would be politically difficult because it would breach the strict EU ban on bilateral talks. “It is against the negotiating rules at the moment but not to talk is an error,” he said. “The French and British governments have to talk to…