Hundreds of passengers on Sunday faced their third day of travel disruption at the Port of Dover, as ministers insisted that the delays crossing the Channel were not linked to the UK’s departure from the European Union.
The port, which declared a critical incident on Friday, has blamed the disruption ahead of the Easter weekend on “a mix of lengthy immigration processes at the border and sheer volume of traffic” as well as adverse weather.
Over the weekend, some ferry operators such as P&O Ferries launched overnight sailings to help clear a backlog that saw some passengers waiting for as long as 14 hours.
Britain’s busiest port has been beset by periodic hold-ups since travel opened up after Covid with the new Brexit rules in place, notably last summer when there was an Anglo-French dispute over the handling of passengers. But speaking to Sky News, home secretary Suella Braverman rejected suggestions that the delays were influenced by the UK’s departure from the EU.
“No, I don’t think that’s fair that has been an adverse effect of Brexit,” she told the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme. “What I would say is at acute times when there is a lot of pressure crossing the Channel, whether that’s on the tunnel or ferries, then I think that there’s always going to be a back-up and I just urge everybody to be a bit patient while the ferry companies work their way through the backlog.”
The delays at the channel follow warnings from Eurostar chief executive Gwendoline Cazenave that the service has been forced to run trains more than a third empty during some peak periods as a result of lengthier processing with post-Brexit border arrangements.
The home secretary also pushed back against the notion that the delays would continue to be a regular occurrence during the school holidays. “I don’t think this is the state of affairs to go forward,” she said, speaking on the BBC. “I think we have got a particular combination of factors that have occurred at this point in time. This will ease.”
A spokesperson for the Port of Dover said that more than 300 coaches had departed on Saturday, “with all of the freight backlog cleared and tourist cars processed successfully”, but noted that there remained some “coaches still waiting to be processed”.
They added: “Minimal freight is expected today and so the focus remains on ensuring all partners work to get the remaining coaches and other tourist traffic on its way as soon as possible.”
Ferry operator P&O Ferries warned on Sunday afternoon that passengers would still have to wait for at least four hours.
Shadow levelling-up secretary Lisa Nandy argued that the government had “known for a very long time” that it needed to ensure adequate resources were in place to deal with “additional paperwork checks” post-Brexit.
“The point is not whether we left the European Union or not. The point was that we left with a government that made big promises and once again didn’t deliver,” she told Sky News. “And I really feel for the families that are trying to get away for an Easter break, people who have been caught up in this chaos, people whose livelihoods are threatened.”
The government has said that it remains in regular contact with “ferry operators, the French authorities, and the Kent Resilience Forum” — the county’s emergency planning group. A spokesperson added: “We recommend passengers check the latest advice from their operators before travelling.”