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French minister’s reaction to Dover: Don’t blame us for Brexit

Delays of up to six hours caused ministers to exchange pointed words yesterday with each side blaming the other, but traffic is now said to be ‘flowing normally’

Long queues stretch at the Port of Dover

Delays of up to six hours caused controversy at the border and between ministers on both sides of the Channel Pic: Christian Mueller / Shutterstock

The French transport minister has reiterated that “France is not responsible for Brexit” as long queues at Dover stretched into their third day – although an update this morning suggests traffic is now flowing.

An article in The Telegraph newspaper headlined “[Foreign secretary Liz] Truss tells France to fix holiday travel chaos” prompted minister Clément Beaune to explain that “the French authorities are working to check our borders and facilitate [the passing] of traffic as much as possible”.

He said: “I have discussed this with my counterpart Grant Shapps. But France is not responsible for Brexit.”

Vehicles reported having to wait several hours before being able to access the Port of Dover yesterday (Saturday, July 23), as the weekend was one of the first major holidaymaker departure days without Covid restrictions.

Ferry operator P&O Ferries warned customers that wait times for some services had reached six hours. Yesterday it said that the average wait had dropped closer to three.

‘British holidays ruined’

In a statement, managing director of the port of Dover, Doug Bannister, blamed French authorities for "ruining" British holidays, and said that French officers had underestimated the number of French border police officers that would be required.

He said that it was “immensely frustrating” to be “let down” by a lack of resources at the French border. Yet, he did acknowledge that "in a post-Brexit environment", boarding delays would increase. 

On the French side, prefect of the Hauts-de-France region, Georges-François Leclerc, admitted that authorities’ plans for Friday had been delayed due to a signalling incident in the Channel Tunnel and a traffic accident on the M20 motorway.

However, he denied that this was the main reason for the problems. 

During a press conference in Lille yesterday, he said: “The entire system didn’t fall over just because we had one hour delay. The work has been done on the French side.”

Read more: French authorities say technical issue led to Dover staff shortages 

He said that officers had been increased to 200, up from the 120 usually working during most summer weekends, and said that the problems were simply due to a huge increase in traffic. More than 9,000-10,000 vehicles are expected per day at peak times, rather than the 4,000-5,000 usually seen.

Mr Leclerc continued: “Last year we had Covid, this year we’re discovering Brexit. France is taking on its responsibilities, but it’s a responsibility also shared with the British.”

One of the issues is that, post-Brexit, an ID check is not enough to pass; passports (and potentially visas) must also be checked and stamped.

Ms Truss has also sparked controversy after claiming that the long waits are due to “French authorities not putting enough people on the border to manage the queues” and that she is “very clear that we need to see action from [the French] to resolve the terrible situation that people are facing”.

She dodged a question about Brexit being the cause of the issue, and said that it was instead due to “a lack of resources at the French border”.

However, Lucy Moreton, from the British border force union ISU, said that the issues were a “foreseeable” result of Brexit.

Ms Truss has also been accused of refusing to help the situation by declining to accept a £33million (€38.7million) plan that would have doubled the capacity of French border personnel.

Despite the issues, traffic is now said to be “flowing normally” at the port, according to the official Port of Dover Twitter account this morning (Sunday, July 24).

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Port of Dover queues: A one-off or a long-term problem?

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