Climate protesters blockade U.K.’s busiest trucking port as supply-chain nightmare deepens

September 24, 2021, 10:55 AM UTC

As the U.K. battles serious supply-chain issues that are largely down to a shortage of truck drivers, here comes another problem: Climate protesters have blockaded Europe’s busiest ferry port, in Dover.

Insulate Britain, an offshoot of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement, has grabbed headlines in recent weeks by blocking sections of the M25, the orbital road around London. As its name suggests, the group is specifically demanding widespread insulation of British homes, to cut down on energy wastage and fuel poverty.

Due to its effect on thousands of drivers, Insulate Britain’s campaign has successfully grabbed public attention—with much of the reaction being negative. Earlier this week, the government won an High Court injunction against the group, meaning the activists face jail if they keep blocking the M25.

So, on Friday morning, three groups of Insulate Britain activists blocked the entrance to and exit from the Port of Dover (which is not on the M25) instead. The protest began at 8.20 a.m. The port is still open, but there does appear to be significant disruption, and port authorities are urging people to “please allow extra time for your journey.”

“We are working with our customers and the police authorities in managing the situation and apologize to our community for any disruption being caused by a situation not of our making,” Port of Dover CEO Doug Bannister said in a statement.

Local news reports some of the activists glued their hands to the road. Kent Police said in an emailed statement that 39 arrests were made.

“We are sorry for the disruption that we are causing. It seems to be the only way to keep the issue of insulation on the agenda and to draw attention to how poorly insulated homes are causing ill health, misery and early death for many thousands of people,” Insulate Britain said in a statement. “We are blocking Dover this morning to highlight that fuel poverty is killing people in Dover and across the U.K.” 

Supply chains

Dover is the closest English port to Calais in France, making it an important location for British supply chains. It’s the U.K.’s busiest port for roll-on/roll-off freight services.

The U.K.’s supply chains have been in dire straits in recent months, with a general labor squeeze being largely to blame. On Friday, the Office of National Statistics released a survey that suggests as much as a quarter of people in the U.K. have been unable to buy all the foodstuffs they want, with one in six reporting an inability to buy essential food items.

The U.K. has an ever-dwindling supply of truck drivers, thanks to an ageing workforce, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the intended Brexit effect of encouraging European workers to go home to the EU. The country currently has around 100,000 fewer truck drivers than it needs.

On Thursday, a shortfall in fuel-tanker drivers forced the closure of some BP and Esso-owned gas stations. The number of affected stations is quite small The government reacted by stressing that British refineries still have plenty of fuel, and suggesting that it might try to get soldiers to drive the tankers.

The U.K.’s Road Haulage Association wants the government to relax its immigration rules to attract more truck drivers, but the government isn’t giving in; it insists that industry must find drivers within the U.K. However, as the association pointed out earlier this month, the pandemic has massively slowed down driver training and testing.

Update: This story was updated on Sep. 24 to adjust the number of those arrested, per a new statement from Kent Police.

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