In Brief

What the closure of Calais means for Brexit

France’s ban on all arrivals from the UK may be temporary - but EU-wide rules are likely to follow

The new and highly contagious variant of Covid-19 is not only a threat to public health - but also a political challenge for the UK government as it seeks to finalise a trade deal with the EU.

Negotiators missed another deadline for agreement yesterday as they struggled to resolve outstanding differences about fishing quotas and support for industry. 

But the travel ban imposed on British goods and passengers imposed by France and several other European countries may complicate the final phase of talks.

“The timing of the ports shutdown could not be worse for the government because it comes less than two weeks before the end of the ‘standstill’ transition period and just days before Christmas,” the Daily Mail reports. The closure of the Calais - and the resulting logjam of lorries in Kent - will have a “devastating effect” on food deliveries, transport executives told The Guardian.

Brexit stockpiling, Christmas deliveries, Covid restrictions and migrant checks on the French side meant that “cross-Channel freight was already under huge pressure”, the paper reports.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said France’s travel ban, implemented last night with just a few hours notice, was “surprising” and would cause “significant disruption”. He warned hauliers and other drivers to stay away from Channel ports.

Although the French restrictions are scheduled to last for just 48 hours, “the EU is planning to block all passenger traffic to and from England”, according to the German newspaper Bild.

Political consequences

Politicians on both sides of the argument said the government should rethink its Brexit strategy in response to the disruption.

Nigel Farage “accused the EU of trying to take advantage of the mutant coronavirus crisis to force the UK to sign a ‘bad’ post-Brexit trade deal”, the Daily Mail reports. He said Britain should abandon talks and “walk away” from the EU.

Keir Starmer told ITV political correspondent Paul Brand that he does “not want an extension to the transition period” despite the increasing Covid crisis, adding that Labour’s position remains that the prime minister should “get on and get a deal”.

Nicola Sturgeon, meanwhile, said it would be “unconscionable” to risk a no-deal Brexit on top of the threat posed by the virus and called for an extension to the transition period.

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