Ministers were told Britain was on the brink of running out of food after the French President warned he would close his country’s borders.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock was told at the start of the Covid-19 crisis the UK’s food supply chain was about to ‘fall over’ as workers at French ports failed to turn up.
It comes as European leaders are preparing to battle ‘very very large’ disagreements this morning as they try to save a €1.9trillion EU budget, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Emmanuel Macron (left, arriving at the EU summit yesterday) is said to have told Boris Johnson (right) three days before lockdown to act now or France will close its borders
Referring to the start of the coronavirus crisis, an official told The Times: ‘None of the workers in French ports were turning up that first weekend.
‘It wasn’t clear we were going to have enough food for the weekend ahead.’
The marathon of talks will continue from 11am today after the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte dug his heels in on Friday over a plan to help struggling southern countries including Spain and Italy.
Chancellor Merkel and Macron are backing a package of loans and subsidies to member states to revive economies shattered by the virus and preventive lockdowns.
Yesterday, European leaders gathered face-to-face for the first time in five months as talks got underway in Brussels.
The bloc is split in every direction over the budget – north and south disagree over a coronavirus rescue package, while west and east have drawn up battle lines over climate targets and legal reforms.
The Dutch in particular – but backed by Austria, Sweden and Denmark – are reluctant to hand out cash to countries such as Spain or Italy they see as too lax with public spending.
While the leaders have been holding digital summits until now, it was decided that a face-to-face meet is the only way to find enough common ground to reach a deal.
Matt Hancock was told the UK’s food supply chain was about to ‘fall over’ as workers at French ports failed to turn up (pictured: empty supermarket shelves in the UK at the start of the crisis)
Mark Rutte, Angela Merkel, Ursula von der Leyen, Giuseppe Conte, Charles Michel and Macron (pictured left to right) during a EU summit in Brussels, Belgium yesterday
Europe is in the depths of its deepest recession since World War II and the 27 national leaders are seeking common ground on the terms of a €750billion stimulus package that would help lift those hardest hit by the pandemic.
Another diplomat from a non-frugal state warned: ‘What the Netherlands wants is legally impossible and politically difficult to swallow.’
Before the talks Rutte insisted he wanted to show solidarity with countries that don’t have the budget to stoke a meaningful recovery.
‘But at the same time, you can also ask those countries to do everything possible to solve this yourselves the next time. And you do this through reforms, in the labour market, in pensions etc,’ he added.
The draft plan put forward by Michel, foresees a recovery package, made up of €250 billion in loans and €500 billion in grants and subsidies that would not have to be repaid by the recipient member states.
This package is in addition to the planned €1,074 billion, seven-year, EU budget from 2021 to 2027 the leaders must also agree in the coming weeks or months.