Brexit is not to blame for the 14-hour queues at the Port of Dover, Suella Braverman has said – insisting that gridlock will not be a regular occurrence.
The home secretary claimed it was “unfair” to blame the post-Brexit passport checks for the chaos as the port as Easter holidaymakers get stuck in misery at the border with France.
Extra sailings ran overnight from Dover to Calais to try to clear the huge backlog, partly blamed on bad weather affecting ferry crossings and a higher-than-expected surge in bookings.
Travel experts have also blamed the inspection and stamping of individual passports after Brexit. Dover chief executive Doug Bannister said the post-Brexit checks have made processing “more challenging”.
Asked if she accepted Brexit as a cause of the chaos, Ms Braverman told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I don’t think it’s fair to say that this is an adverse effect of Brexit.”
The Tory cabinet minister added: “We’ve had many years now since leaving the EU, and there’s been on the whole, very good operations and processes at the border.”
Ms Braverman downplayed fears delays at Dover will be a regular occurrence. Asked if it could happen every school holiday, she told the BBC: “No, not at all … I don’t think this is the state of affairs to go forward.”
Despite recurring gridlock problems at Dover in 2021 and 2022, the home secretary claimed: “If you look into recent years, things have been very smooth, operating very smoothly at the border.”
She added: “It’s a very busy time of year and there’s been some bad weather. They are positive this will be eased very soon – I just urge people to have patience.”
A spokesman for the port – which has declared a critical incident – said it was hoping to clear the backlog by lunchtime on Sunday, as some travellers were held up for 14 hours.
The port has said the delays were “due to lengthy French border processes and sheer volume”, saying ferry companies had received 15 per cent more coach bookings for Easter than expected.
P&O ferries apologised for the wait times and said the wait time at the entrance on Sunday morning was “approximately 4 to 5 hours”.
Simon Calder, The Independent’s travel correspondent, said processing times since Brexit had risen sharply – saying the new border checks were “gumming up” at border control.
He also warned that it would get worse in November, when the post-Brexit Entry-Exit system (ESS) finally comes into forced – requiring all “third country” travellers to be fingerprinted and allow for a facial biometric scan.
Mr Bannister, CEO of Dover Port, told Sky News: “The difference of living in a post-Brexit environment means that every passport needs to be checked before a vehicle or passenger can pass through to the EU through France. So it does make processing more challenging.”
Brexit-backing Tory MP Natalie Elphicke blamed the problems on the French – saying she was “incredibly disappointed to see French border control problems once again adding to traffic mayhem” at the Kent port.
The Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said Ms Braverman’s denial of Brexit issues shows she “is in complete denial about the impact of the Conservative government’s botched deal with Europe on our borders”.
He added: “For Conservative ministers like Braverman, it is always someone else’s fault. Businesses and travellers are being tied up in reams of red tape but ministers are refusing to lift a finger. It shows the Conservative Party is out of touch, out of excuses and should be out of power.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was “not the first time there have been problems at Dover” and urged the government to “get a grip” of the situation.
“I really feel for people trying to get through Dover. There will have been families who have booked holidays and now they are frustrated yet again and I think the nature of the frustration will be ‘not again’,” he said.