The UK’s Port of Dover declared a “critical incident” on Friday morning and told holidaymakers heading for continental Europe to prepare for long delays in checking in and boarding ferries owing to a lack of French passport control officers.
The warning was issued by the port authority as the summer holiday season kicked off, with thousands of families travelling to Europe this week after the end of the school year. The ferry from the Kent port is the most popular sea route to France and many other parts of mainland Europe.
In a sign of growing tension over the management of the border, Dover issued a furious statement overnight, accusing the French border force of failing to turn up in sufficient numbers to staff Dover’s passport booths — despite efforts to plan for one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year.
The port said it was “deeply frustrated” at the level of resources committed by the French Police aux Frontières (PAF), which it described as “woefully inadequate to meet our predicted demand”, after only half of Dover’s nine passport booths were open for the early morning traffic surge.
Ferry operator P&O warned departing passengers to expect delays of between four and five hours to clear passport controls, which have become more long-winded since Brexit.
But by mid-morning on Friday all the booths were fully staffed, with the worst of the breakfast-time backlog starting to clear.
Following Britain’s departure from the EU, UK passport holders have their passports date-stamped and can be interviewed about the purpose of their journey. Dover said average processing times had risen from 58 seconds per tourist car pre-Brexit to 90 seconds now.
Dover’s complaint about the lack of French border staff was matched on Friday by its counterparts in Calais, who said a shortage of UK Border Force personnel was also causing unnecessarily long waits on the French side of the Channel.
Jean-Marc Puissesseau, chief executive of Port de Boulogne-Calais, said he had been warning of UK border staff shortages for “several months” and that there were delays on Thursday of at least an hour for buses looking to board ferries to England.
“I think the PAF is attentive to this issue, and they are trying to get more staff to Dover. But I’ve been asking for reinforcements from UK BF — we need 50 per cent more people to ensure the smooth functioning of the port,” he added.
John O’Keefe, director of public affairs at Getlink, which operates the Channel Tunnel, said the tunnel was operating smoothly on Friday morning but that UK passengers had to adapt to a new post-Brexit reality.
“Everyone has to realise that there are now different types of border controls so the time it takes to get through the border is longer — that’s a function of the UK being a third country to the EU,” he said.
The delays at the Channel have become increasingly common, affecting the local road systems in Kent, which are a key artery for freight and passengers. The Port of Dover receives about 2.1mn trucks, 2.8mn cars and 16mn passengers a year.
The UK Home Office, France’s transport ministry and the PAF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a separate but further sign of strained EU-UK relations, the European Commission said it was expanding legal enforcement proceedings against Britain in a long-running dispute over post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.
Announcing the measures to enforce elements of the so-called Northern Ireland protocol covering customs, VAT and excise duties, Brussels said it was acting because of “the UK’s unwillingness to engage in meaningful discussion” on the protocol since February.
The commission said it suspended proceedings a year ago in a spirit of co-operation but had restarted them because UK government plans to pass legislation that would unilaterally rip up the protocol went “directly against this spirit”.
In response, the UK government described the commission’s decision as “disappointing”, adding: “A legal dispute is in nobody’s interest and . . . the EU is left no worse off as a result of the proposals we have made in the Northern Ireland protocol bill.”
Additional reporting by Sam Fleming in Brussels
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