Home secretary Priti Patel appeared to admit in television interviews that the numbers of lorries stuck in Kent waiting to cross to France is far greater than the numbers quoted by transport secretary Grant Shapps.
More than 40 countries have banned flights from the UK due to a mutant variant of coronavirus spreading through the country, but it is the French decision to also ban hauliers which has caused the greatest concern.
Shapps claimed the lorries waiting at the time of Monday’s Downing Street press conference was just 170 with measures to control overflow working smoothly – suggesting it showed the UK was ready for any Brexit scenario.
He said: “Some of the reason we are not seeing big problems in Kent is because work going on for very many months, years even, is coming to fruition — a little earlier than anticipated.
“To a large extent, it shows we are ready.”
But hours later Patel gave the figure of 1,500, telling BBC Breakfast that the figures were continuing to “fluctuate”.
She explained: “First of all, the number of lorries continues to fluctuate so the numbers will be different from when Grant spoke yesterday to this morning.
“The numbers do fluctuate, and I think Highways England has actually confirmed overnight that the numbers were approximately 900 but those numbers change all the time.”
But by the time she was in the Sky News studio, she admitted that exceeded 1,5000.
She said: “I’ve just been told that currently on the M20 there are 650 lorries, and there are 873 lorries at the inland site in Manston.”
James Withers, chief executive at Scotland Food & Drink, criticised the news.
“Contrary to an upbeat assessment from the prime minister yesterday, the situation has been deteriorating with a growing backlog of lorries. We understand the number of lorries currently parked up in the wrong place in the UK is now in the thousands.
“There has been a very small amount of seafood that was caught in the backlog that has managed to switch to being unaccompanied freight and get to France. But the vast bulk of the problem remains and is worsening. The UK government should be holding a COBRA meeting again today and focussing all efforts on agreeing a protocol with the French authorities.”