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 traveling 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 lanes were open for the early morning traffic surge.
“Regrettably, the PAF resource has been insufficient and has fallen far short of what is required to ensure a smooth first weekend of the peak summer getaway period,” the port added.
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 nine of Dover’s French passport booths were fully staffed, with live traffic cameras showing that the worst of the breakfast-time backlog had begun to clear.
Following the UK’s departure from the EU, UK passport holders can enter the bloc as tourists without a visa, but they are only allowed to spend 90 days in any 180-day period on the continent. This requires passengers to have a physical date-stamp entered into their passports and submit to an interview about the purpose of their journey, all of which takes additional time.
Dover’s complaint about the lack of French border staff was matched on Friday by 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 warned 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 percent 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 Thursday morning but that UK passengers had to adapt to a new post-Brexit reality.
“Everyone has to realize 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. It does take longer to get a person through the process,” he said.
The delays at the Channel have become increasingly common, affecting the local road systems in Kent, which are a key artery for EU-UK freight and passengers. The Port of Dover receives about 2.1mn trucks, 2.8mn cars and 16mn passengers a year.
Kent county council said delays to border checks at both Dover and the Eurotunnel terminal were having a “serious effect” on the county’s roads. The problems were exacerbated on Friday morning by the closure of the M20 motorway near Folkestone after a serious crash.
Alongside pictures showing long queues of stationary trucks, the National Highways South-East Twitter account wrote: “The situation is not expected to improve any time soon.”
The UK Home Office, France’s transport ministry and the PAF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.