Dover traffic backlog now cleared but warnings of future delays

Next weekend is also predicted to be busy. A Kent official says it will take ‘very little to cause tailbacks’

Traffic is said to be flowing normally through the Port of Dover today (July 25)
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The Port of Dover has stated that there are “normal traffic flows” towards cross-Channel ferries today (July 25) after days of disruption.

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

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

The Port tweeted this morning that there was no ferry-related traffic “on M20 and A20 Dover TAP [the Traffic Assessment Project management system] not in use.

“All traffic contained in the port with local roads operating normally. French border well staffed. Minimal dwell time to get through port and onto the ferries.”

Yesterday, the Port issued a statement which said: “With all aspects of the summer getaway operation running at full pace, the Port of Dover worked around the clock with its operational partners to clear waiting Dover-bound freight vehicles overnight.

“The backlog of tourist passengers that was generated on Friday has also now been cleared along with successfully getting Saturday’s holidaymakers off on their way.

“So far this weekend the Port has processed 72,000 passengers, which is more than 200 miles of tourist and freight traffic combined.

“With the entire port system working efficiently, including strong support from French border colleagues and ferries running through the night, the Port demonstrated that its summer plan will work for the rest of the holiday period, as it did in clearing huge volumes of tourist and freight traffic to get back to normal by the early hours of Sunday morning.

“We should not have been in this situation in the first place, however, with all partners working together, the plan will ensure that trade continues to flow effectively, families get away on their holidays quickly and our community is open and free to go about its business.”

DFDS Ferries has said that there are currently “small queues” at border controls, and has advised passengers to allow at least 90 minutes before departure to get through passport checks.

A busy weekend ahead

However, people who are due to travel from Dover to Calais this weekend (July 29-31) have been warned that it is expected to be very busy again, in what could be another weekend in a period of disruption lasting the whole summer.

The major incident which was declared over the weekend, when passengers were waiting up to six hours in border control queues, has been maintained.

Toby Howe, senior highways manager at Kent County Council, has said that the Port was in a “very vulnerable situation”, meaning that congestion was caused easily.

Mr Howe told Radio 4’s Today programme that this weekend is set to be the second busiest of the summer holidays.

The combination of additional, post-Brexit border checks and a volume of traffic at pre-pandemic levels meant that it takes “very little to cause tailbacks”.

Mr Howe added that more infrastructure was needed to get traffic off the roads and prevent motorway delays.

John Keefe of Getlink, the company which manages Eurotunnel, has said that measures such as introducing digital technology to speed up border checks could help to tackle future queues.

“There are definitely solutions. These solutions are not new. They’ve been on the table for many, many years,” he said.

"But hopefully something like this will actually focus attention."

What happened over the weekend?

On Friday (July 22), passengers were caught in queues of up to six hours to board ferries, and the Port blamed this on a lack of staff at French border control, whose preparation for the summer season it described as being “woefully inadequate”.

The Port had made nine passport booths available for tourists, but on Friday only six were in operation. This issue was rectified in the afternoon, but the situation was “already out of control,” a Dover source said.

Over the weekend, traffic built up on roads leading towards Eurotunnel’s Folkestone terminal following the closure of a section of the M20 motorway due to Operation Brock.

This operation enables lorries to park on the motorway while they wait to board ferries, and cars diverted to other roads, creating miles of tailbacks.

UK blaming France, France blaming Brexit

The UK government also attributed the delays to a lack of preparation by the French authorities, while France’s Transport Minister Clément Beaune stated that additional border checks were a result of Brexit.

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

With the Covid pandemic having reduced the number of people travelling in summer 2020 and summer 2021, this is the first time that the impact of the UK leaving the EU is truly being felt in the summer holiday season.

For example, Dover has said that it handled 11,000 cars on Friday, while on the same weekend last year only 2,000 passed through the Port.

Now that the UK is a third country, passengers entering the EU must have their passports checked more carefully and stamped, adding about half a minute of waiting for each car moving through the port, which becomes hours when there are 142,000 people to process in a weekend.

Guy Verhofstadt, who served as prime minister of Belgium from 1999 to 2008 and who was the European Parliament’s Brexit Coordinator and Chair of the Brexit Steering Group, commented:

“Before the Tory Brexit, cars were waved through, now everyone's passport has to be stamped.

“Truss or Sunak can't even admit it, let alone do anything about it. Blaming France for a hard border is just cynical.

“Taking back control was a big lie!”

Mr Verhofstadt has long been a staunch opponent of Brexit, stating in 2013 that the idea was “stupidity for a country with 53% of its exports going to the continent and to the rest of Europe. It’s even so stupid that Britain’s best friends, the United States, don’t understand it all.”

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