Sainsbury’s has warned that some products could be missing from shelves due to restrictions at ports, but said food for a traditional Christmas lunch is available and already in the country.
The supermarket chain has moved to calm customers following the closure of Dover to lorries leaving the UK, while warning them that some items may be unavailable.
Freight lorries cannot cross by sea or through the Eurotunnel to mainland Europe for the next two days.
The Port of Dover has also closed to outbound traffic.
As a result of the consequential chaos, Sainsbury’s has said that some fresh fruit, vegetables and salad leaves may not be available.
A spokesperson said: “All products for the Great British Christmas lunch are already in the country and we have plenty of these.
“We are also sourcing everything we can from the UK and looking into alternative transport for product sourced from Europe.
“If nothing changes, we will start to see gaps over the coming days on lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit – all of which are imported from the Continent at this time of year.
“We hope the UK and French governments can come to a mutually agreeable solution that prioritises the immediate passage of produce and any other food at the ports.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps warned that “significant disruption” was likely to close the Kent border due to the outgoing travel ban.
Richard Burnett, head of the Road Haulage Association, told the BBC’s Today programme that the 48-hour ban could deter EU hauliers from coming to the UK over fears they will end up being stranded.
He said: “With it being so close to Christmas we’re looking at 48 hours at this point in time in terms of the restrictions, we’re likely to see Operation Stack building in terms of numbers of vehicles on the UK side and that might be a deterrent for EU hauliers to want to come so close to Christmas and end up being stranded here, that’s part of the challenge that we’re facing today.”
If that is the case, then just in time shipments of fresh fruit and vegetables from the Continent may not be able to get into the country.
Boris Johnson will hold crisis talks with senior ministers and officials today as countries around the world ban flights from the UK.
They are reacting to news that a mutant strain of the coronavirus is “out of control” in the UK, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Ahead of a meeting of the Cobra committee chaired by the Prime Minister, Mr Shapps said emergency measures were being put in place to cope with a backlog of lorries heading for the channel ports.
But he sought to play down the potential impact, stressing that container freight was not hit by the French ban on travellers.
Along with France, countries across the world announced restrictions on UK travel following the disclosure that the highly infectious new strain is widespread across south-east England.
French health minister Olivier Veran said it was already “entirely possible” the new variant – VUI 202012/01 – was already circulating there, although tests had not detected it.
As well as affecting freight flows from Dover and the Channel Tunnel at Folkestone, the disruption will leave passengers stranded in the run-up to Christmas.
Mr Shapps attempted to calm fears about the wider impact of the French decision.
The Transport Secretary said hauliers were “quite used to anticipating disruption”, adding there were variations in supply “all the time”.
Mr Shapps said he was talking to French counterpart Jean-Baptiste Djebbari and told Sky News: “The absolute key is to get this resolved as soon as possible.”
Asked if consumers will see shortages in supermarkets, Mr Shapps said: “The supply chain is pretty robust in as much as you get variations in supply all the time. For the most part, people won’t notice it.”
He confirmed that the disused Manston Airport in Kent would be used as a lorry park, while Operation Stack – the contingency measures used to queue on the M20 whenever there is disruption at the channel – was already in place.