Jacob Rees-Mogg has admitted he was wrong that there would be no queues at Dover after the UK left the European Union – but says his inaccurate predictions were made “for the right reasons”.
During the Leave campaign, the MP for North East Somerset had vowed that after Brexit: “We will maintain a free-flowing border at Dover.
“The delays will not be at Dover, they will be at Calais.”
He made that promise speaking to Nick Ferrari on LBC Radio in 2018. Four years on, after the Port of Dover was declared a “critical incident” with holidaymakers were stuck in their cars for many hours, Mr Rees-Mogg was challenged on his assurance by the same interviewer.
Talking to LBC this morning, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “I got it wrong for the right reason, if I may put it that way.
“The point I was making was that the only delays would be caused by the French if they decided not to allow British people to pass through freely.”
The Port of Dover has been plagued with slow-moving queues in recent weeks.
On Friday 22 July, the Port of Dover issued an unprecedented statement accusing the French of “woefully inadequate staffing” after a contingent of Police aux Frontières failed to arrive as expected to staff border control points.
Neither the French nor any other EU member state (except Ireland) is allowed to permit British people to pass freely through an external European Union border, such as those installed at Dover and Folkestone.
In the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with Brussels, the UK government asked for British travellers to be treated as “third-country nationals” – requiring all passports to be checked and stamped.
Previously, French frontier officials were able to exercise discretion and wave motorists through.
Research by The Independent suggests that the processing time is currently around 90 seconds for a family of four.
Doug Bannister, chief executive of the Port of Dover, 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.”
This morning Mr Rees-Mogg echoed the view of other senior Tories, including Jeremy Hunt, that the French are responsible for hold-ups.
The minister for Brexit opportunities said: “They have decided to do that. They failed to get people to turn up and that is what caused delays in Dover.”
“If the French don’t operate the system properly, we get the delays,” he added.
“British people might think that going to Portugal is more fun because the Portuguese want us to go and the French are being very difficult.
“Why should we go and spend our hard-earned money in France with the French don’t want us?
“Portugal has made e-gates available to British tourists and there is something to be said for supporting people who support you.”
Many European Union nations allow UK visitors to use e-gates, but the arrivals must then queue up for their passports to be stamped.
Later another LBC presenter, James O’Brien, said: “Jacob Rees-Mogg is humiliating himself every time he opens his mouth.
“He didn’t understand what being a third country would mean. There is no wriggle room here.”
“Even if it was the sole responsibility of the French, that would be proof positive that ‘taking back control’ hasn’t worked.”
Both contenders to be the next Conservative Party leader and prime minister insist that Brexit is not to blame for queues at Dover.