The meeting between the British and French Home Secretaries didn’t yield much in headlines – about the strike anyway – but the situation has improved considerably this afternoon. However, apart from P&O saying it is back to its regular, full-strength schedule there is nothing official to say the dispute is over: no word from union boss Eric Vercoutre, or from DFDS about its Dover-Calais services (DFDS just tweeted to say the strike is still on).
Meanwhile, there’s a developing spat between DFDS and Eurotunnel over when exactly the former can expect to get its hands on the two former-MyFerryLink ships it recently leased from the latter. The ferries are apparently still both moored in Calais harbour, occupied by the former-MyFerryLink workers… See more on live blog below.
17:30: another barnstorming statement from P&O’s chief executive Helen Deeble: ‘We are already moving back to our full schedule of 25 sailings a day,’ she says.
We have the capacity to move 4000 freight units a day and we expect to be able to carry the backlog of lorry drivers currently waiting in Operation Stack across to the Continent within the next 48 hours…
We now look to the British and French governments to ensure that there is no repetition of this madness. The port of Calais is a vital strategic link in the transport infrastructure of both countries and it must stay open.’
17:00: DFDS should have taken possession of the former MyFerryLink ferries from today. The two ships, owned by Eurotunnel, are currently occupied by strikers in Calais harbour.
We asked DFDS whether it could now have the strikers evicted. The firm has just replied to say, ‘We are awaiting confirmation of when Eurotunnel is able to deliver the ships to us.’
We have asked Eurotunnel if they want to comment but are yet to hear back.
15:30: strike leader Eric Vercoutre will hold a press conference at 18:30 local time in Calais after discussing his meeting today – with the French transport minister – with the other strikers. The words ‘in limbo’ and ‘not positive, not negative’ appear in the report from Nord Littoral, which also says P&O was allowed to sail into Calais yesterday because the union got the meeting with the minister.
14:30: the joint statement issued after the meeting between British Home Secretary Therea May and her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve doesn’t refer to the strike at all. It appears the meeting was purely about the Calais migrant crisis and terrorism. Both the Guardian and the BBC were under the impression the talks included the Calais strike.
Subsequently, the French government has announced Theresa May is on her way to Calais to discuss the strike action (according to Jason Beattie of the Mirror, adding that the ‘Home Office, for some reason, decided not to tell us’).
Meanwhile, shipping minister Robert Goodwill has been in Dover to assess the situation ahead of a meeting of the government’s COBR emergency committee tonight.
12:30: in the face of striker’s threats, Eurotunnel says it is pressing charges against those who have already broken through the security fence at its French terminal.
The Channel Tunnel operator again calls on the French authorities to restore order in Calais as the National Asset Barrier makes its way to France.
Strike leader Eric Vercoutre says security at Eurotunnel is a ‘joke’ and that strikers can breach the fence ‘like a knife through butter’. He has threatened to step up the action at the French terminal today and tomorrow.
In response, John Keefe, Director of Public Affairs at Eurotunnel says, ‘It is the responsibility of the authorities to maintain order and to protect the security of the Channel Tunnel. It is also their responsibility to deal with instances of criminal damage and the endangering of life through the action of strikers. Eurotunnel is pressing charges against the perpetrators and has, for some time, been pressing the authorities to restore order and public safety in the Calais area.’
There have been several invasions at the terminal this week, by strikers and migrants – including one incident where a fire was lit on the track – though there have been no breaches in the past two days.
The UK National Asset Barrier – a 9ft high, 4km fence which can be erected within hours – is on its way to France according to the BBC.
12:00: P&O has denied rumours that Calais has closed again this morning. A spokesperson told us a few moments ago that Dover-Calais sailings are currently proceeding to plan – in fact, it has increased the frequency from one every two hours to one every ninety minutes. Also, that the firm has increased tonnage in order to accommodate the maximum number of vehicles, that it can ‘guarantee’ to get customers to the Continent but that they should move quickly to avoid the threat of further potential action.
Interestingly, they add later that ‘anyone travelling this weekend should travel as normal’.
10:00: @SANEF_Autoroute says it is delivering water to drivers held in A16>Dunkirk Operation Stack queue.
09:30: photos emerge – via @GaryAndrews77 – of graffiti on the former-MyFerryLink ferries moored in Calais harbour and occupied by strikers.
OVERNIGHT: the dust settles as it becomes clear the strike is very much still on, albeit with some relief for P&O customers. The Daily Mail quotes strike leader Eric Vercoutre calling security at the Tunnel a ‘joke’ and that the strikers could breach the fence ‘like a knife through butter’. He has promised to step up the action at Eurotunnel today and tomorrow.
The union is due to meet the French transport minister this morning but in the meantime will let P&O ferries enter Calais one by one reports France24. Home secretary Theresa May and her French counterpart are also expected to visit Calais. Due to give a press conference in Paris at 13:00BST.