May promises Calais ‘safe zone’

TRANSPORT firms warned the situation facing lorry drivers in Calais is “out of control” as the Home Secretary promised new measures to prevent illegal migrants targeting cross-Channel traffic.

Theresa May announces a new "secure zone" at Calais in the Commons

Theresa May announced a “secure zone” capable of holding 230 vehicles will be created in Calais so they do not have to queue for the port or Eurotunnel on the open roads where migrants can try and get on board.

The Eurotunnel operators revealed 28,000 migrants had been taken off trucks in the last six months although that figure included multiple attempts to cross the Channel by the same individuals.

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It is estimated there are around 5,000 migrants in Calais trying to find a way to cross to the UK.

MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee were told lorry drivers feared for their safety.

Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, described the situation as “out of control”, adding: “We’ve got drivers being threatened with bars and knives. We’ve had an example of a driver being threatened with a gun.

“We’ve got a problem right now. This is unprecedented and it’s escalating. We need action now.”

The committee was told the annual cost of goods written off because of contamination fears relating to migrants trying to board trucks is estimated at around £1 billion.

Asked by MPs if he would describe the situation as a crisis, Kent chief constable Alan Pughsley said: “I think unless something significant is done to stop the amount of people trying to come into the country there will be a stage where the resilience of my officers dealing with it will be a significant problem.”

Earlier Mrs May had told the Commons that 8,000 attempted crossings by illegal migrants had been stopped by French and British officials between in recent weeks.

She said £12 million had been allocated to improving security in northern French ports, including new fencing, which should be completed next month.

But the Government was criticised by its opponents for not doing enough to tackle the root causes leading to the migrants arriving in northern France.

Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz said: “I am not convinced that putting 250 lorries in a secure zone will be the answer, even part of the answer.”

He went on: “The key is the taskforce that she has set up in the Mediterranean because unless we stop the flow of people into France, we cannot solve the problem of Calais.”

SNP MP Joanna Cherry said: “We must ask what is driving thousands to such desperate action and what more we can do to deal with the root of the problem.”

She added: “Surely we have a responsibility in the UK to help and support those who are driven from their homes and families because of war, poverty, or environmental degradation?”

The problems were also seized on by Eurosceptics as an example of the failure of the EU to properly police borders.

Sir Roger Gale, the Conservative MP for North Thanet said it was time to “abolish Schengen and bring back border controls”.

He told Mrs May: “Will she make clear to the French authorities that we expect, in the name of much-vaunted freedom of movement, that the Port of Calais is kept open as it ought to be at all times? And second, will she recognise that part of this problem is due to the complete failure of the Schengen Agreement?”