Coach passengers have faced days and nights of delays at Dover as they waited for backlogs to clear this weekend, after a critical incident was declared at the port on Friday.
The Port of Dover and P&O Ferries warned on Sunday afternoon that coaches arriving at the port will be waiting upwards of 10 hours in total – but passengers and parents of school children on coaches have branded these times as “lies”, with some reporting waiting between 16 and 20 hours to board ferries.
On Sunday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman denied that Brexit was causing the problems, saying that Easter was an unusually busy time. Port and ferry companies disagreed, pointing the finger at increased border checks.
How does Brexit factor into the chaos?
The Port of Dover and DFDS Ferry services said Brexit is behind the long delays.
A DFDS spokesperson said the need for more passport checks post-Brexit was causing the issue.
“There are increased checks that need to be completed since Brexit, with each passport needing to be stamped by PAF [French authorities] before the coach reaches DFDS’ check-in controls,” the spokesperson told i.
While freight and cars were moving on Sunday, coach queues have mostly been at a standstill at the port buffer zone, which is between the entrance to the port and French passport control. This takes place before you get to check-in and get on the ferry at Dover.
The ferry company defended its planning ahead of the busy holiday, saying it had regular meetings with the Port of Dover, UK Border Force, and the French authorities, where it looked at predicted traffic figures.
“The company has also put significant effort into making the arrivals process for coach passengers faster, working with coach operators to ensure the submission of Advanced Passenger Information pre-travel and introducing new functionality via its app, which allows coach drivers to pre-log passenger passport information and reduce processing times at the port.”
The spokesperson said DFDS was “working through the backlog of coach traffic”: “We are sorry that passengers travelling this weekend have experienced such long delays at passport controls and it has been working to get all customers away on their journeys as quickly as possible once they arrive at DFDS check-in.”
P&O Ferries declined to provide more information on the reason behind delays.
Doug Bannister, chief executive of Port of Dover, also said Brexit was a factor. “The difference of being in a post-Brexit environment means that every passport needs to be checked before a vehicle or passenger can cross into the European Union through France. It does make processing more challenging,” he told Sky News.
But Mrs Braverman denied it was playing a role in the long queue times. “I don’t think it’s fair to blame Brexit. On the whole, there’s been very good operations and processes at the border,” she told Sophy Ridge on Sunday. “There’s always going to be a bit of pressure and I urge people to just be patient.”
Ms Braverman told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme that the problem was down to a “combination of factors”.
“I think we have got a particular combination of factors that have occurred at this point in time,” she said. “This will ease. I ask everybody to check their journey times carefully, but it is a busy time of year.”
Travel journalist Simon Calder said processing times had increased since Brexit because now every passport needed to be checked and stamped.
He told LBC the queues were likely to get worse from November, when the post-Brexit Entry-Exit system (ESS) finally comes into force. This will require “third country” travellers to be fingerprinted and have their faces biometrically scanned.