LONDON – Travellers trying to leave the UK by ferry faced delays into the night at the country’s busiest port, as a weekend of travel chaos threatened to spill into Easter week and prompted a renewed debate about the impact of Brexit.
Coach passengers were warned they would be held for hours within a “buffer zone” inside the port before they could transit passport control and cross the English Channel. Cars and freight were “free flowing,” ferry operator DFDS said.
In a statement issued at 10.30pm Sunday (5.30am Singapore time Monday), the Port of Dover said wait times were four to six hours – by the time the backlog is cleared Monday, about 900 coaches will have passed through in three days.
Further complicating the travel picture, staff at UK passport offices will begin a five-week strike on Monday, gumming up summer plans for thousands of Britons.
More than 1,000 members of the PCS union will take part in the strike, which could mean delays to applications during the peak pre-summer period.
The Dover disruption renews the focus on the impact of Brexit after air and sea delays in 2021 and 2022 were largely blamed on Covid-19, workforce shortages and French border procedure.
With Parliament in recess for Easter, tales of woe from travellers could provide an unwelcome talking point for Conservative activists out campaigning for next month’s local elections.
Earlier, the port’s chief executive officer, Mr Doug Bannister, told Sky News that the “post-Brexit environment means that every passport has to be checked” at Dover before passengers can travel on to France.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman denied that Brexit was to blame for the delays, saying that passengers need patience at “acute times when there is a lot of pressure crossing the Channel.”
Ms Braverman’s view was refuted by travel journalist Simon Calder, who told Times Radio that the UK government had “asked for a hard EU frontier” in the wake of the 2016 Brexit vote.
Former Conservative MP David Gauke suggested that the link was “not a contentious point, surely?”
Labour’s Ms Lisa Nandy avoided directly linking the Dover delays to Brexit, accusing the Conservative government of more generally failing to put in place a system that could cope with demand.
“The government has known for a very long time that they needed to make sure that there were resources in place to deal with additional paperwork checks,” said Ms Nandy, who sits in the opposition shadow Cabinet.
“The point is not whether we left the European Union or not. The point was that we left with a government that made big promises and once again didn’t deliver.”