Brexit has contributed to travelers being stuck in gridlock at the start of the summer holidays at the port of Dover, French and UK officials have said, as a war of words escalates between the two countries over hours-long delays at the border.
Holidaymakers and heavy goods vehicles were left stationary in traffic jams en route to the port in Kent, southern England on Saturday, with the port admitting that “today is going to be very busy” and travelers being warned of four-hour waits.
The UK and France have been locked in a round of finger-pointing over the cause of the gridlock, with British lawmakers laying blame on staffing on the French side, and French officials nodding to increased post-Brexit customs checks.
“The British are right to complain, because there are traffic jams. But it’s not the fault of the French, it’s the fault of the Brexit,” French MP for Calais Pierre-Henri Dumont told French public radio France Info.
“The reality is that this is the first vacation after the Brexit. After the final exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union and without travel restrictions due to the Covid pandemic … the French border force make controls as they must do for an entry in the European Union and so it takes time,” he said.
The French MP also blamed the size of the port of Dover, which he said is “three times smaller than the port of Calais.”
The Port of Dover’s chief executive Doug Bannister accepted that Brexit had resulted in delays, telling LBC on Saturday his team were “recognizing that we are in a post-Brexit environment, which means the transaction times through the borders are going to take longer.”
But British lawmakers have insisted that understaffing in Calais has clogged up the route across the Channel.
Liz Truss, Britain’s Foreign Secretary and the favorite to win a two-person race to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister, said “this awful situation should have been entirely avoidable and is unacceptable.”
“We need action from France to build up capacity at the border to limit any further disruption for British tourists and to ensure this appalling situation is avoided in future. We will be working with the French authorities to find a solution,” Truss said in a Friday statement.
Dumont said all the booths given by the British authorities in Dover to the French police in Dover were staffed at full capacity, while acknowledging a slight delay in the early hours of Friday due to “a technical failure.”
He denied allegations made in the British press of “intentional desire to punish the British,” adding there are “many French families who make a living from the cross-Channel crossing. Sailors, men and women who are on land.”
P&O Ferries told passengers to allow up to four hours to clear security checks at Dover on Saturday morning.
Relations between Britain and France have become increasingly frayed since Britain left the European Union, with leaders in both countries engaging in spats over travel and over migrant boats crossing the channel.