Lorry drivers downgrade blockade to go-slow as they protest against Calais camp


A planned blockade by lorry drivers protesting about the migrant crisis in Calais has been downgraded to a "go-slow".

Shopkeepers, police unionists and farmers are set to join hauliers in calling for the northern section of the Jungle camp at the French port to be demolished.

The protest, set to take place on roads around the town on Monday, is likely to disrupt British cross-Channel travellers.

Pressure has been growing on the French authorities to tackle the problem which has seen the camp swell in size in recent months.

Despite efforts to reduce numbers by dismantling the slum's southern section earlier this year, up to 9,000 migrants from countries including Sudan, Syria and Eritrea are living there in squalor.

French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve met with French hauliers and local businesses on Friday in negotiations which saw the protest downgraded from a full blockade.

Richard Burnett, Road Haulage Association (RHA) chief executive, said: "Today's meeting was very positive.

"The minister's chief of staff listened attentively to what we had to say and was genuinely concerned when we spoke of the ever-increasing levels of violence and intimidation against HGV drivers every day."

He added: "It is inevitable that even this, lesser course of action will still cause disruption to port traffic and we would advise hauliers to take alternative routes if possible."

French authorities have pledged to dismantle the camp by October and deploy an additional 1,000 security staff in the area, according to the RHA.

The "go-slow" is likely to take place along the A16 around the port, the RHA said, but it is not clear how many vehicles will take part or how long the action will last.

People traffickers are going to extreme lengths in Calais, with reports of vehicles being torched, petrol bombs thrown and trees being cut down to block roads before drivers are threatened with chainsaws and machetes.

Gangs are paid thousands of pounds by vulnerable people to get them to Calais, from where some are smuggled to Britain to work to pay off huge debts to people traffickers.

Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart has pledged to turn out in support of the protesters on Monday.

Dover Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke said: "While I have the deepest sympathy for the people of Calais, Monday's demonstration will achieve nothing other than chaos on the roads of France and Kent.

"What's needed is real action to tackle the causes of this crisis."

Ferry companies, including P&O, are trying to work with the French authorities to ensure cross-Channel passengers will be able to travel safely and securely.

Chris Yarsley, Freight Transport Association EU affairs manager, said last year's cross-Channel travel disruption cost the UK economy £250 million a day.

Mr Yarsley said: "FTA doesn't support this kind of direct action because of the effect it has on members' businesses and the huge costs involved."