BUSINESS leaders in Hampshire have urged the government to get freight moving again after Britain found itself cut off from large parts of Europe.

Traffic across the channel was halted after a new and faster-spreading strain of Covid-19 prompted dozens of countries to stop travel from the UK.

France introduced a 48-hour ban on hauliers crossing the channel with their cargo, bringing lorry traffic to a standstill at Dover.

Ross McNally, chief executive of Hampshire Chamber, said: “This is an urgent situation that needs to be resolved as an absolute priority. The smooth movement of freight to and from Hampshire and the rest of the UK is essential for consumers and businesses.

“We call on ministers to ensure a protocol to resume freight movement is agreed and in place the moment France reopens its border with the UK after the 48-hour shutdown.

“Governments must have meaningful discussions with each other. There are examples of how to keep travel routes open, for example by having PCR tests up and running, that would enable freight to start moving again.

“Ministers must take whatever steps are necessary to safeguard to flow of essential products and services across borders.”

Although the crisis is threatening supplies all over the UK, the operator of the Port of Southampton said there was no direct effect on its operations.

A spokesman for ABP said: “All of our freight services in Southampton are running as normal at present and supplies continue to come into the UK through the port as before.

“The major impacts on freight movement relates to France and we handle very little freight directly to or from France in the Southampton.”

France was last night looking to establish a health protocol so that lorry journeys between the UK and the continent could resume.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said hauliers were “quite used to anticipating disruption”, adding there were variations in supply “all the time”.