Long traffic jams piled up on Saturday outside the Port of Dover, Britain’s main gateway into Europe, and officials said the ongoing disruption could be worse than the gridlock seen on Friday.
Travellers setting out into mainland Europe as the British school summer holidays start, as well as the usual flow of freight trucks, have faced long delays because of slow border checks.
The Kent Resilience Forum, which brings together local councils and emergency services, declared this to be a “major incident”, while Port of Dover CEO Doug Bannister said travellers could face delays of up to six hours on Saturday.
“We were expecting that today was going to be a busier day than yesterday,” Bannister told the press. “Yesterday we processed about 8 500 cars going out, today we were predicting that to be around 10 000, so it is going to be a very busy day down here.”
The Port of Dover is expanding interim border control infrastructure, as well as taking steps to improve traffic systems and passenger experience, ahead of the busy summer travel season.
— Port of Dover Travel (@PoD_travelnews) July 23, 2022
Roger Gough, Conservative leader of Kent County Council, said around 3 000 heavy goods vehicles held on the M20 motorway were gradually being fed through to Dover.
Bannister said the number of French border staff at Dover had increased following Friday’s disruption. Dover and the French port of Calais have “juxtaposed” border controls in which French authorities check passports on British soil before departure, and vice-versa in France.
Britain and France both pointing fingers
The UK government has blamed the problems on a lack of French border force staff, while France says more checks are needed because Britain is no longer a member of the European Union.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who is competing to succeed Boris Johnson as prime minister, said on Friday that the situation was unacceptable.
In a statement Truss said, “We need action from France to build up capacity at the border to limit any further disruption for British tourists and to ensure this appalling situation is avoided in future.”
Resource at the French border overnight and early this morning has been woefully inadequate to meet our predicted demand as the summer getaway period commences. Our full statement: https://t.co/tnoCLNU9Ut pic.twitter.com/ZdUmYh1geF
— Port of Dover (@Port_of_Dover) July 22, 2022
French regional prefect Georges-François Leclerc said that at midday, out of the 9 000-10 000 vehicles scheduled to make passage on Saturday, 60% had passed without any issue.
“Waiting time was about an hour and a half during the morning and was later reduced to about 45 minutes,” Leclerc said. Asked if French customs officers were to blame for the delay, he said this was false.
On a statement released on Saturday morning, however, the CEO of Port of Dover, expressed a sentiment of gratitude to his French counterparts.
“I welcome the commitment shown by both French and UK authorities to resolve the issue and thank the French border officials for the work that I hope they will now fulfil to keep the port system working as it should.” he expressed.
He went on to say that it is vital for attention to remain high and that all partners maintain the required staffing levels throughout the weekend, and the rest of the summer, so that they can begin to return to the positive experience they had planned for those going on their summer breaks.
Travellers heading for the Eurotunnel service at Folkstone were also facing delays. Queues stretched 3.2 kilometre back from the entrance.
The port delays came as some airports also struggled to recruit enough staff to manage a post-pandemic resurgence in travel, leading to chaotic scenes at London airports in recent weeks. Railway travel has also been periodically disrupted by labour strikes.