Unprecedented numbers of heavy goods vehicles are seeking to cross from France to Britain ahead of the British exit from the single market this year, creating huge tailbacks around Calais, French officials said on Thursday.
Traffic is heavy in both directions as traders rush to move goods ahead of Britain's departure from the EU customs union on December 31 as part of its exit from the European Union earlier this year.
By midday Thursday, there were over five kilometres of lorries queueing to access the Channel Tunnel, an AFP reporter said.
"Yesterday (Wednesday) was the all time record," said Francois Schira, the senior local official in charge of Brexit preparations.
He said on Wednesday 9,000 heavy goods vehicles had arrived to cross to England, whereas the normal number was 5,000-6,000.
"The traffic is only increasing. Many heavy goods vehicles could not board yesterday, parked nearby and rushed this morning to try to board this morning.
"This immediately created a traffic jam and we could not regulate the influx. This morning the situation is very complex to manage."
He emphasised that the problem was made even more acute due to the frequent attempts made by migrants in the area to secretly board lorries and transit to Britain.
He said police, who made 2,300 interventions in one day Wednesday to halt such such bids, needed to check all the lorries for the presence of migrants.
"It is a vicious circle," he said, noting that Tunnel operator Eurotunnel had warned of eight hours waiting time on Thursday.
- '20 hours more waiting' -
Officials have repeatedly warned of difficult weeks ahead, with the Channel the hub of trade between Britain and Europe.
Usually November is the peak month as traders prepare for Christmas but this year it is December as businesses on both sides stockpile items ahead of the Britain's exit from the single market.
British and EU negotiators are still engaged in tense talks over a deal to replace Britain's membership of the single market after December 31 and a no deal could exacerbate problems at the border.
Sebastien Rivera, secretary general of the regional road transport federation (FNTR), said the French authorities' traffic management "was not up to scratch".
He complained drivers were waiting in the cold for hours, "stuck in their cabs along the highway, without toilets".
In addition to traffic jams on the French side, there are "difficulties on the English side", making a total of "between 15 and 20 hours more waiting than usual" for a return trip, he said.