Holidaymakers hoping to sail over from Dover to France on the busiest day since 2019 faced queues for French border control of between one and two hours on Saturday – after they made it into the port.
Doug Bannister, chief executive of the Port of Dover, told The Independent: “We are still trying to clear the significant backlog that arose from yesterday’s challenges.”
As the big weekend rush began on Friday, the port warned that holidays could be ruined because of “woefully inadequate” staffing by French border officials, the Police aux Frontières. The authorty declared a “‘critical incident”.
As the day wore on, families heading for the continent on holiday found themselves stuck in cars for many hours. Local residents struggled to make their way through the congestion that built up during the day.
One man, who lives adjacent to the port, said it had taken him over two hours to drive a few miles home from work on Friday evening.
Mr Bannister apologised to anyone stuck in traffic jams, saying: “I’m so terribly sorry for all the travellers, the truck drivers and our local communities that got caught up in the severe disruption yesterday.
“We still have ongoing challenges today on the roads – and that is really disappointing. We’ve been planning for the summer season for months.”
But Mr Bannister said that Saturday had begun better at the “juxtaposed” French border control on the UK side of the Channel.
“We’ve had a good complement of French immigration border officers turn up this morning. So the booths are manned. But we are still trying to clear the significant backlog that arose from yesterday’s challenges.
“We knew what the resourcing requirements were, we even installed more booths, put in more capacity to make certain it could happen OK, and so we did feel we were let down.
“About 34,000 passengers transited outbound through the Port of Dover [on Friday]. That’s about 8,500 cars. We’re expecting a little over 10,000 cars today to go through.
“I’m very, very pleased and grateful – and relieved – that Police aux Frontières have provided appropriate resourcing for this morning.”
“If travelling with us today, please allow a minimum of three hours before your departure time to complete all controls at the port. Rest assured, we will accommodate you onto the first available departure.”
Hundreds of trucks are backed up for three miles on the A20 on the western approach to Dover. A similar tailback extends from the Eurotunnel terminal at Folkestone to the M20 motorway – which is partially closed to be used as a lorry park.
Tourist traffic is being waved past the truck queues, but even once inside the port gates, motorists face a wait of up to two hours to go through French passport control. Processing times have increased sharply since Brexit.
Mr Bannister said: “Since the UK left the European Union we do now have border checks. Passports need to be checked, they need to be stamped. So the Police aux Frontières are only doing the job that they need to do right now. And it’s the challenge of that increased transaction time.”
Observations of cars at the border checks by The Independent indicated a typical time of 45 seconds for a couple in a car to have their passports processed, and twice as long for a family of four.
“That’s why we increased the number of posts to be able to handle the overall throughput through the port,” said Mr Bannister. “We just need to get those posts manned. They’re manned this morning.
“We need to see that carry on through this afternoon, through this evening, into tomorrow and indeed for the rest of the summer.”
Lucy Moreton of the Immigration Service Union told BBC Today: “France has taken back control of its border. Checks are much more rigorous than they used to be.
“This is one of the outcomes that was reasonably predictable.”
Jo Washington, from Sittingbourne, turned up at Dover with a camper van, with her dog Chica five hours ahead of her booked sailing to France. They are travelling through France to Spain for a three-week holiday.
She said: “We have to put up with it. That’s what the British do.”
Ms Washington’s advice to fellow motorists: “It is what it is. Don’t get stressed, sweaty. Just relax.”