French authorities have countered a claim made by the Port of Dover that its border police provided “woefully inadequate” resources yesterday (July 22) that led to queues of up to six hours, saying that an “unexpected technical issue” in the Channel Tunnel meant staff could not reach their posts on time.
Eurotunnel has denied this is the case.
Long tailbacks stretching back several kilometres were reported at the Dover ferry terminal yesterday - the first day of the English school summer holidays - which led to the Port declaring a “critical incident”.
It put out a statement blaming the queues on French border controls.
“We are deeply frustrated that the resource at the French border overnight and early this morning has been woefully inadequate to meet our predicted demand and even more deeply regret the consequences that will now be felt by so many,” a statement issued by the Port reads.
Natalie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for Dover & Deal, also blamed French border agents, saying they “didn’t turn up for work”.
But Georges-François Leclerc, prefect of the Haut-de-France region where Calais is located, stated yesterday evening that this information “had to be corrected”.
“The increase in traffic this weekend had of course been anticipated and an appropriate plan had been prepared, in consultation with the Border Force and all the local transport operators.
“On the basis of a detailed analysis of traffic forecasts, it was therefore planned to man all the [passport booths] at the Port of Dover, from 08:30.
“An unforeseen technical incident at the Channel Tunnel led the border police to postpone the desired full operational capacity by one hour. It was not until 09:45. that the full complement of staff was in place.”
Eurotunnel promptly responded to this and rejected it as a reason, saying it was “absolutely not the case” and that the staffing issues started well in advance of the “minor technical incident”.
The Port of Dover’s most recent update at 13:00 yesterday also states that the queues were caused by “inadequate French border capacity”, suggesting that it too does not accept the French authorities’ argument.
Queues continue despite the blame game
The blame game could end up being as long as the queues themselves, which are expected to continue today.
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, told Sky News that “Saturday could prove busier still this weekend”.
The Port of Dover says that “continual high holiday traffic volumes are fully expected”.
“Passengers need to come prepared with water, food and supplies and to check with their chosen ferry operator for the latest information and advice,” the Port has stated.
“Passengers are also asked to avoid trying back routes to reach the port as that makes the situation worse, particularly for local residents.”
The UK’s transport minister Grant Shapps has said that he is working with his French counterpart, Clement Beaune, to address the tailbacks.
“I welcome his commitment that both Britain and France will work closely to minimise further disruption so people can get away quickly,” Mr Shapps said.
There's been severe delays today at Dover & so I'm working closely with my opposite number @Cbeaune to address the issues that caused tailbacks.— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) July 22, 2022
I welcome his commitment that both Britain & France will work closely to minimise further disruption so people can get away quickly.