MANY of us learned a new word this week: cabotage, the transporting of goods in one country by operators from another.

The UK Government’s lifting of the two weekly delivery limit by foreign lorry drivers across Britain is another tactic in its Operation Save Christmas, which, it hopes, will help unclog Britain’s supply chains and ensure Santa will drop down the chimney at the appointed time.

Grant Shapps, Whitehall’s Transport Secretary, was in his best persuasive mode when he softly explained: “Having some additional capacity right a good idea. This is a quick way of doing it. It doesn't require visas, it's just a common sense measure…I don't think it is going to undercut or suppress the market.”

However, the Road Haulage Association is not in a festive mood; in fact, its members are “gobsmacked”. They read cabotage as sabotage.

Association spokesman Rod McKenzie suggested the Government’s post-Brexit policy now seemed to be: British jobs for foreign workers.

“It has been talking about a high-wage, high-skill economy and not pulling the lever marked 'uncontrolled immigration'; to them[association members], this is exactly what it looks like.

“Allowing overseas haulage companies and drivers to come over for up to six months on a fortnightly basis to do unlimited work at low rates, undercutting UK hauliers who… are facing an acute driver shortage, rising costs, staff wages,” McKenzie raged.

“So,” he added, “this is about taking work from British operators and drivers and giving it to Europeans who don't pay tax here and pay peanuts to their drivers. We don't want cabotage to sabotage our industry.”

Across the water, the mood was equally negative.

Edwin Atema, from the Dutch FNV union, which represents hauliers across the EU, said changes to cabotage rules would be “legalising exploitation” across the UK’s road haulage market.

“This option of lifting cabotage rules will not remedy[the situation] but is oil on the fire of an industry that is broken already,” he claimed.

However, post-holiday Boris is likely to be unimpressed by the truckers’ tantrum; consumers ie voters are his priority.

The PM’s first attempt to unclog, offering temporary visas to 5,000 HGV drivers, has not been a roaring success; only two dozen or so have taken up the offer. So, the PM is now implementing the cabotage plan.

Despite the industry’s misgivings, Shapps went on air to declare: “Christmas will go ahead. We’ll be able to see our friends and families. There will be food, there will be gifts.”

He did let slip there “maybe a few lines” of goods and food, which would not be available for the festive period but he insisted Christmas 2021 would not be cancelled.

Retail bosses have warned shipping costs have jumped, in some cases tenfold, because of rising global demand, which can mean only one thing: inflated costs for consumers.

Maersk, the Danish shipping giant, has been diverting cargo vessels away from Felixstowe to alternatives on the Continent such as Rotterdam because of the build-up of containers.

But Shapps was sanguine about Britain’s situation, saying: “I saw stories yesterday running, saying Felixstowe, which is our biggest container port…it’s going to be terrible for Christmas. Actually, when I speak to Felixstowe, they don’t feature in the world’s busiest in terms of congestion ports at all.”

Last week, a poll suggested most retail companies planned to put up their prices on goods by the end of the year; one in 10 has already done so.

To avoid your child’s disappointment, consumers are being urged to buy early, particularly toys and electrical goods.

Reports suggested main retailers have already sold out of PlayStation 5 while independent ones are charging way above the £449 recommended retail price; one was charging £1,249.

However, the Government is keen to avoid panic-buying, urging families to “go about their business as usual”.

Supermarkets and retailers are now expected to bring Christmas sales forward by as much as a month to avoid shortages and last-minute panic-buying.

Indeed, some have already begun cutting prices on popular items. Richard Walker, the boss of frozen food giant Iceland, announced his company was one of them. “It's prudent to get ahead of the game,” he said.

Across the pond, the bruised French Government, like the Irish administration, couldn’t help pointing out Britain’s supply chain woes had been exacerbated by Brexit.

At the G7 meeting in Washington last week, Bruno Le Maire, France's finance minister, said: "We are facing the same situation but the fact we are a member of a very important single market helps us face these bottlenecks.” Schadenfreude can be so sweet.

At the same gathering, Rishi Sunak put on a brave face, saying: “I'm confident there'll be a good amount of Christmas presents available for everyone to buy,” and stressed UK ministers were doing "absolutely everything we can" to fix those pesky supply chain issues.

Yet despite the Government’s scramble to act and its message of good cheer, the cabotage changes could help to put it on a collision course with the haulage industry.

The Unite union has raised the prospect of possible industrial action in protest at what it sees as poor pay and conditions for lorry drivers.

Sharon Graham, the newly-elected union baroness, declared: "The treatment of drivers across the board has been nothing short of a disgrace. As the Prime Minister said recently, the answer to the driver shortage is better wages and improved conditions. This is what we demand.

"Now is the time for action not words. It's time for employers to pay workers a proper rate for the job.”

But Graham then added that Unite would now be consulting its members “before deciding on next steps, including exploring the options for industrial action”.

However, as the season of goodwill approaches, surely the union would not be stupid enough to threaten to cancel Christmas? More likely, this dispute will roll on into the New Year.

For now, Christmas looks set to be delivered albeit more slowly and with a higher price tag for many of us.