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Operation Stack: Home Secretary Theresa May to be quizzed over Calais situation's impact on Kent

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Home Secretary Theresa May has assured MPs that the government is treating the problems caused by thousands of migrants gathered at Calais seriously.

The secretary of state appeared before the cross-party Home Affairs select committee where she was pressed on the problems facing both sides of the Channel.

Up to 5,000 people are now gathered at Calais in migrant camps and there remains an on-going problem with migrants trying to break into HGVs to reach the UK.

Home Secretary Theresa May
Home Secretary Theresa May

She said the problems were not just about security at Calais but about what could be done to address the problem at source, such as in countries like Italy.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz told the minister: “The people of Kent and MPs are going berserk about this. Are you ever going to solve the problem of Calais or will it be there for ever?”

Migrants were “desperate” to cross the channel to get to the UK and were prepared to try any means - even swimming across the channel, he added.

"The people of Kent and MPs are going berserk about this. Are you ever going to solve the problem of Calais or will it be there for ever?" - Keith Vaz

Mrs May said the challenge went beyond Calais and required a wider range of initiatives.

“Resolving this problem and this issue is not just about the security arrangements at Calais. It is about working with other countries of origin so people feel less need to come to Europe. It is about organised crime and a comprehensive package of activities is needed.”

Asked if either she or immigration minister James Brokenshire would “stop off” at Calais en route to their holidays because the situation was serious both there and in Kent, she replied that was unlikely but “we are keeping an eye on what is happening and we are treating it seriously”.

It follows a hearing last week in which MPs heard from Kent’s Chief Constable Alan Pughsley and hauliers’ representatives about the impact that Operation Stack was having on Kent.

It comes as police work to avoid implementing Operation Stack again today, following earlier blockades at the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais.

The system, which closes part of the M20 to allow lorries to park until they can cross the Channel, has been brought in five times in the past month.

Officers are currently using a rolling road block to avoid having to introduce the controversial measures, which cause traffic chaos on the M20 and surrounding roads.

Mrs May’s appearance before the committee comes a week after her announcement of a new holding area in Calais to protect about 230 lorries from the efforts of migrants gathered in the town to get across to the UK.

She is due to meet Kent MPs after the hearing where she is expected to face further pressure to ensure action is taken to minimise the disruption and to meet the costs of any new projects.

Meanwhile, KCC has said it wants the M20 to remain open for domestic motorists while Op Stack is on and says there should be a holding area for HGVs close to the motorway.

Operation Stack in place on the M20. Stock image
Operation Stack in place on the M20. Stock image

Cllr Matthew Balfour (Con), the county council’s cabinet member for highways, said that ideally, HGVs should be warned much earlier if Operation Stack was - or was likely to be - in place to keep them out out of the county.

However, if they did turn up they should be held in an area near the motorway where they could be moved quickly once ferry services resumed or the Channel Tunnel reopened.

Cllr Balfour said: “If they do turn up, we have to be much more clever about the way they are parked. That does not mean it is about a large park.

Traffic has been known to stack up along the A20, causing chaos in Dover
Traffic has been known to stack up along the A20, causing chaos in Dover

"There has to be a flow of lorries... that does not mean you have to have them parked on the motorway. We could draw off those that got there first.”

He said a way needed to be found to keep the motorway open to local traffic although the costs were “absolutely enormous.”

“It is absolutely necessary that whatever decisions are made, the motorway continues to function in both ways, without blocking other travellers,” he told a cross-party committee today.

He also urged the government to use money collected by foreign hauliers to pay for solutions, saying: “It is absolutely disgraceful that the government has trousered £40m quid.”

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