Labour is calling on David Cameron to demand compensation from France for truckers, businesses and holidaymakers affected by chaos at the port of Calais.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, acting party leader Harriet Harman said Mr Cameron’s reaction to the crisis had been “devoid of any serious solution”, and accused him of inflaming the problem with “incendiary and divisive language”.
The call comes a day after Mr Cameron phoned French President Francois Hollande to discuss their response to scenes of migrants besieging the Channel Tunnel entrance at Calais, which the PM warned he expects to last all summer.
Measures promised by Mr Cameron, including more sniffer dogs and fences, were dismissed by hauliers’ representatives as “a sticking plaster”.
French police said that fewer migrants attempted to enter the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais overnight than in previous days, with around 800 gathering by security fencing and 300 making it into the secure area.
Ms Harman said the PM had ignored repeated warnings about the crisis developing in the French town, where as many as 5,000 migrants are living in a makeshift tent city awaiting their chance to cross the Channel to the UK.
She quoted Freight Transport Association estimates that the crisis is costing hauliers £700,000 a day, as thousands of trucks are stuck on closed sections of the M20 in Kent under the system known as Operation Stack, while there are further costs for Kent businesses and residents and families trying to travel to the continent.
Conservative MP Helen Whately said the motorway shutdown was a “nightmare” for people in her Faversham and Mid-Kent constituency, with local businesses “incredibly badly affected”.
Ms Harman told the PM: “It is wrong for UK businesses and families to face these costs given border security failures in France. Your discussions with the French government should therefore include a request for compensation backed up by any diplomatic pressure that may become necessary. Compensation should cover all losses.
“Over the last few days, your approach has been devoid of any serious solution to the crisis. You have failed to initiate any diplomatic pressure on the French government to assess asylum claims and make sure proper immigration procedures are followed. Instead you have chosen to inflame the situation with incendiary and divisive language, which will serve only to escalate the problem.”
Labour pointed out that the French authorities had paid compensation to UK hauliers in previous incidents causing them serious disruption, such as industrial action by lorry drivers in 1996.
After chairing a meeting of the Government’s emergency Cobra committee in Whitehall on Friday, Mr Cameron branded scenes of migrants breaking through fences and hanging onto lorries as they try to enter the Channel Tunnel “unacceptable” and declared: “We are absolutely on it. We know it needs more work.”
Options to relieve chronic traffic back-ups on the M20 are being considered, but specific locations to hold trucks unable to pass through the Tunnel are yet to be confirmed.
Laws including new powers to tackle illegal working will be fast-tracked, while Britain and France plan to put on flights to return migrants to their home countries.
Downing Street said that both the Prime Minister and Mr Hollande expressed concern in their phone conversation on Friday evening about the “immediate security challenges” at Calais and reiterated their commitment to “continue working closely together to tackle the problems posed by illegal migration”.
A Number 10 spokeswoman said on Friday: “Both leaders agreed on the need to work with Eurotunnel to monitor and secure the area and for respective ministers to continue discussions over the coming days to implement additional measures that could further improve the situation on the ground.”
Speaking in Downing Street after the Cobra meeting, Mr Cameron said he had assembled a team of senior ministers to lead the response, working “hand in glove” with French authorities.
“The situation is not acceptable and it is absolutely this Government’s priority to deal with it in every way we can,” he said.
Downing Street said “urgent options” are being pursued by defence and transport planners to create alternative parking zones to alleviate the pressure in Kent.
This may include a temporary freight overspill at Ebbsfleet, while increasing ferry capacity on different routes is also being explored.