As holidaymakers continued to face long delays in Dover this week, travel industry insiders have called for an end to the “blame game”. Tens of thousands of families saw the start of their summer holidays ruined last weekend as the roads approaching the Kent port were gridlocked, causing delays of several hours.
Demand for cross-Channel sailings is expected to surge in the coming days, leading to fears of more disruption. Ferry operator DFDS is urging passengers to allow two hours to complete the check-in process.
The disarray at UK’s main port brought into sharp focus the realities of travelling to the EU during a busy period for the first time since Brexit came into force, with UK and French authorities each blaming the other.
But Ross Matthews, Eurocamp’s chief sales and marketing officer, called for an end to the blame game, and urged the French and UK authorities to “work together for a solution”.
He said: “With passport and documentation checks now taking longer than in previous years, these delays are not going to improve at peak times without key travel authorities taking ownership. It’s clear there is a need for more capacity from passport control lanes and booths at both Dover and Folkestone, but equally, understaffing from border control on the French side needs to be looked at.
“It’s not enough to keep playing the blame game. These key authorities are the only ones who can prevent these huge backlogs, and rather than arguing over the cause of delays, they need to step up and do something about it.”
The port expects to see about 140,000 passengers, 45,000 cars and 18,000 freight vehicles between today and Sunday. In 2020 the government rejected the port’s request for a £33m chunk of a Brexit infrastructure fund to, among other things, double the capacity for passport checks. It got just £33,000 instead.
Port of Dover chief executive Doug Bannister said the way the system was “back to normal by Sunday morning” – once French border controls were fully staffed – showed that “our collective summer plan works”.
He added: “We, in turn, together with our ferry operators and port traffic management teams, will be equally ensuring that we are fully resourced … I am extremely grateful to French border colleagues for their commitment this coming weekend.”
People driving to Dover are advised to leave extra time for their journey and to ensure they have enough food and water. Earlier this month, the port advised passengers to expect to wait between 60 and 90 minutes at French border controls during peak periods because Brexit means UK tourists are “subject to enhanced checks”.
Meanwhile the AA issued an amber traffic warning, with congestion expected to peak between 11am and 3pm on Friday and Saturday thanks to a combination of rail strikes, the start of the football season in England and the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, said: “All eyes will be on Dover and Folkestone, but we believe changes have been made throughout the week and will keep our fingers crossed for a smoother trip across the Channel.”
Cousens urged drivers to checks their vehicles before travelling. “Breakdowns can make jams worse, and last weekend we saw a rise in breakdowns where vehicle checks had not been carried out,” he said. “Spending 10 minutes checking tyres and fluid levels before setting off can make a big difference in helping people getting to their destination.”