Long queues formed at Dover and a major incident was declared as a second day of travel chaos consumed the key port amid additional post-Brexit checks.
The disruption came as most schools in England and Wales broke up for the summer holidays, marking the start of one of the busiest periods for foreign travel.
Passengers faced hours-long queues and were warned to expect another “very busy day” at Dover.
Kent officials declared a major incident due to the traffic as P&O Ferries told travellers to allow at least three to four hours to pass through security and French border checks.
About 10,000 cars are predicted to travel through the port on Saturday – 1,500 more than on Friday. About 3,000 lorries are also reportedly waiting to cross the Channel.
Doug Bannister, the port’s chief executive, said there could be delays of five to six hours. “It could be. We were expecting that today was going to be a busier day than yesterday,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday.
“We are operating in a post-Brexit environment which does mean that passports need to be checked, they need to be stamped and indeed the capable people that do man the booths – Police aux Frontières – they’re doing their job that they need to do now.”
French politician Pierre-Henri Dumont, the Republican MP for Calais, blamed the UK’s exit from the EU for the chaos, telling BBC News it was “an aftermath of Brexit” with more checks needed.
The foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said France was to blame for “entirely avoidable” delays, calling on officials there 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”.
But Dumont said there was “no need to blame French authorities for the traffic jams in Dover”.
“We have to run more and longer checks,” he tweeted.
Dumont also accused London of having “rejected [a] few months ago a proposal to double the number of passport booths” for French police in Dover.
Post-Brexit travel rules mean British nationals may stay in the Schengen zone for no more than 90 days in any 180-day period. Until a fully automated border system is operational, passport stamps are now required at most entry and exit points, significantly increasing processing times.
The British Foreign Office is advising travellers to mainland Europe to get their passports stamped, noting that if “relevant entry or exit stamps are not in your passport, a border officer may presume you have overstayed your visa-free limit”.
In December 2020, the UK Cabinet Office reportedly rejected a £33m proposal to double the capacity for French government passport checks at Dover after the port requested funding to help it pay for additional Brexit-related border expenses.
The funding would have been used to double the number of French border police passport booths in anticipation of more stringent requirements – including stamps in passports from 1 January 2021 – the Financial Times reported (£).
ITV News reported on Wednesday that the Port of Dover was only then “expanding border capacity to avoid queues” after a deal with the French border force to operate 50% more passport control booths.
The port said the extra booths would be “installed before the summer getaway weekend” of 22-24 July, but conceded their operation would depend on French “resourcing levels, and we know resourcing around Europe … is tight”.
The local MP Natalie Elphicke said “long, long delays” are expected again and insisted French authorities “should apologise to Dover residents and holidaymakers for the unnecessary holiday chaos at the start of the summer getaway”.
A regional government official for Nord-Pas-de-Calais said in a statement on Friday evening that French officials had “of course anticipated the increased traffic levels” and put in place “an appropriate level of staffing”.
He said a “technical incident” at the Channel tunnel meant French border police had not been at full operating capacity in Dover until 8.45am on Friday, an hour later than planned, by which time long delays had built up.
UK authorities have rejected this explanation.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said he was “working closely” with the French transport minister “to minimise further disruption so people can get away quickly”.
But Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds accused the government of being “absent”, telling Times Radio that those in charge needed to be “taking a grip of this situation”.
July 23, 2022 at 11:18PM Miranda Bryant and Jon Henley