British and French officials blame each other for Dover port backlog

UK holidaymakers and residents have been warned there is a ‘way forward’ to clear the backlog at Dover with a ‘very busy’ day expected, but port authorities have expressed relief at improving levels of French border staff.

Some 10,000 cars were expected at the port on Saturday, with more than 13,000 passengers said to be “on their way” by 10 a.m.

Scenes of blocked roads and bumper-to-bumper cars seen on Friday were repeated as travellers, some of whom got out of their vehicles to stretch their legs as traffic came to a standstill, endured longer waits.

Cars queue for check-in at the Port of Dover in Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Port of Dover chief executive Doug Bannister said delays of five to six hours could still be the case on Saturday, which is already expected to be a busier day than Friday.

This is one of the busiest times for overseas travel from the UK, as most schools in England and Wales have closed for the summer.

Chaotic scenes at the port prompted Foreign Secretary and Conservative leadership hopeful Liz Truss to blame France for ‘entirely avoidable’ delays, calling on officials there to ‘build capacity at the border to limit any further disruption to British tourists and to ensure this appalling situation is avoided in the future”.

But French politician Pierre-Henri Dumont, Republican MP for Calais, blamed the UK’s exit from the EU for the chaos, telling BBC News it was ‘a consequence of Brexit’ with more necessary controls and claiming that the port of Dover was “too small” with too few kiosks due to lack of space.

Passengers embarking on cross-Channel crossings from Dover must clear French border controls before they can board a ferry.

Mr Bannister, who said on Friday it was ‘extremely frustrating’ to be ‘disappointed’ with the lack of resources at the French border, also said there would be ‘increased transaction times’ at the border due to the additional controls required.

He told the BBC Radio Crazyr Today’s programme: “We are operating in a post-Brexit environment, which means that passports have to be checked, they have to be stamped and, indeed, the competent people manning the cabins, the border police, are doing their job, which they have to do now.

He said the port had “created more border capacity so that overall throughput could be maintained” and that while their modeling showed that “very busy days during the summer season” are expected, “for the most part, we should be able to cope with the traffic”.

In a Saturday update, port authorities said they were “relieved that French border staff (Police Aux Frontières) are now fully mobilized at French border controls in Dover”, but warned: “There is of course a way to go to clear the backlog of waiting passengers.

The statement added: ‘Today is going to be very busy, with more British tourists traveling to Dover on their way to France.’

Mr Bannister said he welcomed ‘the commitment shown by the French and UK authorities to resolve the issue’, and said required staffing levels must be maintained for the remainder of the summer ‘so that we can begin to return to the positive experience we had planned for those going on a well-deserved vacation”.

Motorists have been warned of more hours of queuing (Gareth Fuller/PA)

In a tweet, the Port of Dover Travel account said: ‘At 12.45pm #PortofDover has helped 17,215 passengers on their way so far today.

“We are working hard with our partners to get all passengers on their way as quickly as possible.”

Local MP Natalie Elphicke said ‘very long delays’ are again expected and insisted the French authorities ‘should apologize to the residents and holidaymakers of Dover for the unnecessary holiday chaos at the start of summer getaway.

She also called for an end to “this sticky plaster approach – investing in roads, truck parking and port facilities to help the @Port_of_Dover, Kent and Dover grow and thrive”.

Traffic jam leading to Dover ferry port (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Jack Cousens, head of road policy for the AA, said road traffic was piling up elsewhere too, as more people hit the roads for the summer.

He said: “Summer holiday traffic is now spreading with delays starting to appear, mainly in the south of England on the M25, M3, M4, M5, M6, A303 and A31.

“There is also evidence of drivers looking to bypass the worst of traffic jams and turning to local roads to avoid the rush.”

As for other ports, he said Portsmouth has light congestion but Newhaven Port “remains calm”.

Ferry operator P&O Ferries warned of “heavy traffic at border control” and urged passengers to allow at least three or four hours to clear access roads and security checks before departure.

Anneliese Dodds, leader of the Labor Party, said the government had failed to “get a handle” on the problem, calling it “chaos”.

But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he had “worked closely with my counterpart Clement Beaune to resolve the issues that have caused traffic jams”.

On Friday evening, the French Embassy in the UK said French border controls at Dover were “working at full capacity”, adding that French authorities were cooperating closely with their British counterparts.

More than 100 notices of fixed fines have been issued in the last 24 hours for breaking the rules for freight drivers, the Kent Resilience Forum (KRF) said.

EU-bound carriers have been warned that failing to follow signs to follow the Operation Brock traffic management system on the M20 and attempting to skip the queue could face a £300 fine as well as a return to the bottom of the queue.

Toby Howe, KRF’s tactical manager, said the forum was ‘working hard to keep traffic moving’ but that ‘due to disruption at ferry ports and Eurotunnel it is important that drivers plan for long delays ” and make sure they have enough water, food and medicine.