The queueing started on Sunday. By Tuesday evening, many of the more than 1,500 lorry drivers still waiting in their cabs around England’s south-east coast, with little access to even the most basic facilities, were fed up.
That was when the noisy protests started. At Manston airport, where the runway is being used as a lorry park, drivers began blaring their horns in unison, demanding to know what was going on.
Lorry drivers blare horns in protest at border backlog in Kent – video
“You wouldn’t treat your dog this way and to leave drivers like that, it is a sham,” said Phil Houlton, operations director of the Staffordshire-based haulage firm DWP and Sons, whose drivers got caught up in the queueing around Dover during the first day.
He said conditions on the roadside were awful. There were few toilets available to those still stuck, and many drivers had been left with little or no access to hot food, drinks and showers, after the French authorities closed the border to accompanied freight or cargo in an attempt to stem the spread of the new coronavirus variant discovered in the UK.
Houlton said the British authorities knew disruption in the area was coming, adding: “They have nothing and it is disgraceful.” He added that many drivers stuck on the roads were left with little alternative but to dig holes to use as makeshift toilets. “They should have put in some form of toilet facility every 500 yards because, at the moment, there is nothing.”
Caspar Pecherzewski, 22, from Poland, has been among those caught up in queues at Dover since Sunday. “We can find a toilet, at a gas station or something, but we don’t have showers and stuff,” he said. “No one is saying anything about how long we will be here. The police just told us to wait.”
Houlton’s drivers were caught up in the chaos for the first 24 hours, leading him to switch to an unaccompanied system, with one driver dropping off a load on the UK side of the Channel and another collecting it in mainland Europe. While the loading and unloading takes longer, he said, it removes the need for a driver to cross the Channel.
One stranded German driver, who was turned back from Dover on Sunday night, said conditions were worsening due to a lack of toilet and washing facilities. Ronald Schroeder, 52, from Hamburg, said: “I am now staying in a hotel, but in front of the hotel there are thousands of people without any rooms waiting to come over the Channel crossing. I feel a little bit like Robinson Crusoe on an island.”
He added: “The problems of the drivers who are not already in hotels is huge – in my hotel, three buses are renting just one room to have a toilet and a shower. The situation becomes worse every hour.
“The public toilets should be open here right now, there should be someone to hand tea or coffee to the drivers, there should be more help for all the people who have been stranded. People are already staying a second night in their car, it’s just not a life. I ask the British government to please help, and help immediately.”
One driver who passed the lorry park on his way north through Kent on Tuesday morning said he saw hundreds of vehicles, and only one toilet.
John Williams of Howell Transport & Haulage said drivers could spend weeks in their rigs, but only if they had access to food, showers and toilet facilities. While most carried something to eat, he said, few would be likely to carry enough to get them through long spells in the cab. They would normally rely on service stations and the ferries, where such facilities are available.
The government and Kent Resilience Forum said in a joint statement: “Food, toilets and water are available for hauliers along the M20 and at Manston, with more food trucks expected to arrive at Manston shortly. There are more than adequate health and welfare provisions available, with nearly 150 toilets and urinals at Manston and portable toilets every 1 km on the M20 between junctions 10a-11. Seventy additional toilets will arrive at Manston tomorrow morning.”