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HEALTH

UK-France border to stay open at Christmas to clear truck logjam

Rail and sea links between the UK and France will remain open over Christmas to clear the backlog of thousands of trucks stranded by border closures due to the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus, Britain said on Thursday, December 24.

UK-France border to stay open at Christmas to clear truck logjam
Image: Francois Lo Presti / AFP

Thousands of European truckers on Wednesday spent a fourth night sleeping in the cabs of their vehicles, which are stuck close to the major cross-Channel port of Dover while the drivers wait to pass a Covid test, as required by France for travel.

Around 6,000 trucks were waiting early Wednesday evening to cross the border according to Britain's Department of Transport, including 3,750 vehicles parked at the old Manston airport, which is also a Covid testing site.

The others are stuck on the nearby roads in the southeastern county of Kent. “As testing in Kent continues… I've spoken to my French counterpart (Jean-Baptiste Djebbari) and we've agreed the UK/French border at Eurotunnel, Dover & Calais WILL remain open throughout Xmas in order to help hauliers & citizens return home as soon as possible,” UK transport minister Grant Shapps
wrote on Twitter.

Ferry services do not usually run between Dover and France on Christmas Day. The massive testing operation, which is being bolstered by the military, began late Wednesday under an agreement between London and Paris to resume the flow of cross-Channel traffic.

France suspended the routes after a potentially more contagious variant of the virus was identified in Britain.

A team of 26 French firefighters arrived early Thursday in Dover with10,000 tests to help the British and “accelerate” the return of European citizens, according to France's ambassador to Britain Catherine Colonna.

Shapps said 2,367 tests had been carried out by 1200 GMT Thursday, and only three truckers had tested positive.

“As the EU Transport Commissioner (Adina Valean) has tweeted, testing hauliers is not recommended. Spending days in a lorry on your own puts you in an extremely low risk category!” he added.

'Irresponsible behaviour'

Britain's supply chain is highly dependent on trucks shuttling to and from mainland Europe and the closure has stoked fears shortages could arise, just days before the country leaves the EU single market and customs union.

Commissioner Valean estimated that a total of 10,000 European truckers were having difficulties returning from the UK. She blasted France for imposing the snap freight restrictions, criticisms rejected by Paris.

British MP Natalie Elphicke, the representative for Dover, backed the commissioner, tweeting that there was “no excuse for France's irresponsible behaviour in closing the Border.

“The EU Commissioner for Transport is right in her condemnation of France's decision and actions.”French truckers' union FNTR said the situation on the ground was still “chaotic”.

“Drivers I've spoken to, especially those at Manston airfield where thousands are parked, have been there four days without a shower, and hardly have a thing to eat or drink,” a spokeswoman said.

“They're in a dangerous place health-wise and socially. We're really starting to worry,” she added, warning of trouble ahead if they did not move start moving soon.

Volunteers from the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara in Gravesend were preparing thousands of hot meals and snacks for the drivers, part of a wider effort by Sikh humanitarian groups.

More than 50 countries have imposed travel restrictions on the UK after it was announced that a variant of Covid-19 believed by British scientists to spread faster had appeared in the country.

France went a step further by also imposing a freight ban.

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POLITICS

‘Public opinion is ready’ – These French senators want to legalise marijuana

A group of 31 French senators of the Socialist, Green and Republican parties have come together to write a statement calling for the legalisation of marijuana in France.

'Public opinion is ready' - These French senators want to legalise marijuana

France is known for having some of the strictest laws regarding marijuana consumption in Europe – while simultaneously maintaining one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the EU. 

A group of French senators – coming from the Socialist, Green and centre-right Les Républicains parties – are trying to change those laws, and have come together to call for marijuana to be legalised in France.

The group of 31 co-signed a statement published in French newspaper, Le Monde, on Wednesday, August 10th.

In the statement, the senators promised to launch a ‘consultation process’ to submit a bill to legalise marijuana “in the coming months.”

The proposition was headed by Senator Gilbert-Luc Devinaz, a member of the Socialist Party, and gained support from the party’s leader, Patrick Kanner.

READ MORE: The long and winding road towards changing France’s cannabis laws

A report by the Assemblé Nationale, which was published in May 2021, estimated that nearly 18 million French people (more than 25 percent of the population) had already consumed marijuana, and that an additional 1.5 million consume it regularly.

This, coupled with the 2019 finding that nearly one in two French people (45 percent) said they were in favour of legalisation, according to a survey by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT), helped strengthen the senators’ position.

“Public opinion is ready, the legislature must act,” they wrote.

Their senators argue that legalising marijuana in France will allow the authorities to better protect French citizens, saying that legalising would not require “minimising the health impacts of cannabis consumption” but rather would allow regulation similar to “public policies for tobacco, alcohol or gambling.”

For the group of 31 senators, the benefits of legalisation would involve a better control over the “health quality of products consumed,” “curbing trafficking in disadvantaged areas,” developing large-scale prevention plans,” and finally the taxation of cannabis products and redirection of law enforcement resources. Decriminalisation – in their opinion – would not be sufficient as this would simply “deprive authorities the ability to act,” in contrast to legalisation. 

READ MORE: Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?

“In the long term, new tax revenues would be generated from the cannabis trade and from savings in the justice and police sectors”, which would make it possible to mobilize “significant resources for prevention as well as for rehabilitation and economic development,” wrote the senators.

In France, the conversation around cannabis has evolved in recent years – former Health Minister (and current government spokesman) Olivier Véran said to France Bleu in September 2021 that “countries that have gone towards legalisation have results better than those of France in the last ten years,” adding that he was interested in the potential therapeutic use of cannabis.

Currently, the drug is illegal in France. Previously, it fell under a 1970-law of illicit drug use, making it punishable with up to a year prison and an up to €3,750 fine.

However, in 2020, the government softened the penalties, making it possible for those caught consuming it to opt for an on-the-spot fine of €200.

There is also an ongoing trial involving 3,000 patients to test the impacts of medical marijuana usage, particularly with regard to pain relief. 

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