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Dover officials dismiss Suella Braverman’s claim that queues ‘not caused by Brexit’

Things have been ‘very smooth’ at border since Brexit, claims home secretary

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Sunday 02 April 2023 20:19 BST
Not ‘fair’ to blame Dover chaos on Brexit, Suella Braverman says

Port of Dover officials have hit back at claims by the home secretary that long queues at the port are not a result of Brexit.

A spokesperson for the port said the processing time for each passenger had increased since Britain left the European Union, and that this was a factor in the disruption.

Suella Braverman had earlier said that Brexit was not to blame for several days of travel chaos at Dover – insisting that traffic gridlock would not be a regular occurrence on the border with France.

The home secretary claimed it was “unfair” to blame the post-Brexit passport checks for the lengthy queues, as Easter holidaymakers reported waits of up to 18 hours at the Kent port.

But Doug Bannister, the port’s chief executive, has previously said it is “absolutely true” that queues at the port, first seen last summer, are a consequence of the UK’s exit from the EU. Since Brexit, every passport must now be scanned and stamped.

“In a post-Brexit environment, the transaction times through the borders are going to take longer,” he said.

Extra sailings ran overnight from Saturday into Sunday from Dover to Calais to try to clear the huge backlog, which was blamed in part on bad weather affecting ferry crossings and a higher-than-expected surge in bookings.

Experts said the inspection and stamping of individual passports after Brexit had added to the disruption.

Asked if she accepted that Brexit was partly to blame for the long delays, Ms Braverman told Sky News programme Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I don’t think it’s fair to say that this is an adverse effect of Brexit.”

The Tory cabinet minister added: “We’ve had many years now since leaving the EU, and there’s been, on the whole, very good operations and processes at the border.”

Ms Braverman downplayed fears that disruption at Dover could become a frequent occurrence. Asked if it could happen every school holiday, she told the BBC: “No, not at all ... I don’t think this is the state of affairs to go forward.”

Despite recurrent problems with traffic gridlock in Kent in 2021 and 2022, the home secretary claimed: “If you look into recent years, things have been very smooth, operating very smoothly at the border.”

She added: “It’s a very busy time of year, and there’s been some bad weather. They are positive this will be eased very soon – I just urge people to have patience.”

A spokesperson for the port – which declared a critical incident on Friday night – had said the authorities were hoping to clear the backlog by lunchtime on Sunday before confirming coach traffic has now been processed on Sunday evening.

Passengers hoping to get away for their Easter break on Sunday night will face a few more hours waiting to be processed at border controls and then get on a ferry.

“The Port of Dover continues to work with the ferry operators and border agencies to get the remaining coach passengers on their way as quickly as possible,” a spokesperson said.

“We continue to offer our sincere apologies for the prolonged delays.”

Holiday coaches stuck at the Port of Dover in Kent (PA)

The port had said there could be waits of between six and eight hours on Sunday for coach passengers, depending on the ferry operator.

The port previously said that the delays, which began on Friday, were “due to lengthy French border processes and sheer volume”.

It said its staff had been “working round the clock” with ferry operators and border agencies to try to get coach passengers on their way, and that more than 300 coaches had left the port on Saturday, while the freight backlog was cleared and tourist cars had been successfully processed.

Dover chaos: Simon Calder explains why Brexit is to blame for massive backlog

Simon Calder, The Independent’s travel correspondent, said that processing times at border control had risen sharply since Brexit. He explained that the new passport checks were “gumming up” the system.

He also warned that the problem would get worse in November, when the post-Brexit entry-exit system finally comes into force. This will require all “third country” travellers to be subject to fingerprinting and a facial biometric scan.

Mr Bannister, the chief executive of the port, told Sky News: “The difference of living in a post-Brexit environment means that every passport needs to be checked before a vehicle or passenger can pass through to the EU through France. So it does make processing more challenging.”

Charity director Maggie Gordon-Walker, of Brighton, said her son’s school trip to Folgarida in Italy had had to be cancelled following health concerns for the coach drivers, after they and their passengers were left “knackered” by the delays.

Traveller looks at phone while stuck in Dover gridlock (EPA)

Ms Gordon-Walker, who feels that the situation has been “exacerbated hugely because of Brexit red tape”, said her son’s coach had arrived at Dover at around 8pm on Saturday, and that the decision had been made to cancel the trip at 9.20am on Sunday.

Ms Gordon-Walker, who had paid for the trip in instalments, added: “My son is knackered and deflated. I feel sorry for him and angry that this has happened.”

On Sunday, the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael, said Ms Braverman’s denial that Brexit could be partly to blame showed that she was “in complete denial about the impact of the Conservative government’s botched deal with Europe on our borders”.

He added: “For Conservative ministers like Braverman, it is always someone else’s fault. Businesses and travellers are being tied up in reams of red tape, but ministers are refusing to lift a finger. It shows the Conservative Party is out of touch, out of excuses, and should be out of power.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was “not the first time there have been problems at Dover”, and urged the government to “get a grip” on the situation.

“I really feel for people trying to get through Dover. There will have been families who have booked holidays, and now they are frustrated yet again, and I think the nature of the frustration will be ‘Not again’,” he said.

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