French politician blames Brexit for Dover chaos… despite shortage of French border staff: P&O Ferries warns of another ‘busy day’ today after holidaymakers queued for up to 30 hours over weekend
- British and French trying to thrash out deal to prevent more travel misery this weekend – the busiest of year
- But Paris and London are blaming each other for the carnage that saw delays of up to 30 hours last weekend
- Passengers travelling to France were thwarted by severe delays and cancellations on the Eurostar yesterday
- It comes after miles of traffic queues were reported waiting to cross the Channel in an intense gridlock
- The fiasco began early on Friday when French border officials operated just six of their 12 booths at Dover
- But while delays have since improved at the port, situation around Eurotunnel at Folkestone remained dire
France today continued to escalate the war of words with Britain over queues at Dover and Folkestone by insisting that Brexit and not a lack of Gallic border staff is to blame for the chaos that threatens to wreck the summer.
Hundreds of thousands of people were delayed by between 21 and 30 hours over the weekend as they tried to cross the Channel at the start of the school holidays.
There were queues on the Kent coast again today but this weekend is predicted to be the busiest of the year – and since the pandemic ended – raising fears that long delays could return.
Yesterday Downing Street insisted it was not as a result of Brexit with senior MPs insisting France is being over-officious with passport checks because they are ‘furious’ that the UK chose to leave the bloc.
And now senior French politician Pierre-Henri Dumont, Republican MP for Calais, has again blamed delays on the UK’s exit from the EU, telling BBC News it was ‘an aftermath of Brexit’ with more checks needed and claiming the Dover port is ‘too small’ with too few kiosks due to lack of space.
He also told The Times: ‘There is a race to be the next prime minister and everyone is trying to say it is somebody’s fault but this is clearly an aftermath of Brexit.’ He also denied there was a shortage of French border staff after a short delay on Friday.
He said: ‘They ran 24/7 but you had the same queues. That is the crystal clear proof that [British ministers] are lying. The excuses from the British government were silly because this will not change. It is the new reality.
‘We need to co-operate more and more, but co-operation begins by not blaming someone else for your problems. France and the European Union did not ask for disruption. Those who asked were the British government.’
Dover: Queues built at the port this morning as France and Britain continue to row over who is to blame for the delays
FOLKESTONE: Delays are not what they were at the Eurotunnel this morning despite just two of the ten passport booths controlled by the French being open
The furious row between London and Paris over tailbacks at Dover and Folkestone continues as a senior French official taunted Britain by blaming queues on Brexit.
Francois Decoster, vice-president of the Haute-de-France region, which includes Calais, even suggested the UK should reverse the 2016 vote to leave the EU – or consider joining the bloc’s borderless Schengen area.
He claimed Britain had gone back 30 years because of extra passport checks now being carried out in Kent on families heading abroad for holidays.
But the remarks sparked a furious backlash, with former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt accusing Paris of punishing Britain by under-staffing the border and refusing to consider relaxing EU red tape around checks.
And one senior Port of Dover official told the Mail: ‘Brexit or no Brexit, what are you trying to achieve with that level of border control? It’s all very well to say you need to be part of Schengen to have light touch control, but do you really? And should you?
‘You do wonder what realistic threat is posed to the EU’s single market by families going on holiday.
‘You either have an awkward process and resource accordingly, or have a sensible process.’ The source added: ‘We’re only going to avoid it again this weekend if the booths are properly manned.’
Only around half of passport booths in the port were manned by French border police on Friday morning, when it declared a critical incident.
By the afternoon, almost all of the ten or so available for cars and lorries were manned. But the backlog was so large it took until Saturday to clear most of it.
This then also freed up the roads leading to Folkestone and the Eurotunnel, where huge queues also formed because travellers could not reach check-in areas.
France checks passports in Britain – and the UK does the same in France – but critics insist Paris is insisting on severe checks as a result of animosity towards the UK
The roads around Dover have been snarled for days. Locals claim the hard shoulder became a public toilet
Due to Britain now being a ‘third country’, Paris insists travellers must have their passports stamped with dates when entering and leaving the EU’s Schengen area, which France is a member of.
This is to ensure Britons don’t stay more than 90 days within a 180 day period without a visa, which is required post-Brexit for longer visits.
Border guards have also been ordered to ask British holidaymakers whether they have a return ticket, have enough money for their stay and have booked accommodation.
It means it can take an extra 90 seconds longer to carry out passport checks on Continent-bound cars.
Taunting British families while describing his own seamless journey, Mr Decoster told the BBC: ‘I felt very sorry for the British families that were really stuck in such a miserable situation.
‘And, meanwhile, I did an extraordinary journey yesterday. I went from my town in the Haute-de-France to Amsterdam with my family and I crossed two borders and it took me not even a second to cross either of these borders.’
Twisting the knife, he added: ‘I had heard that Brexit would have no cost, but apparently it has cost, because we have to change the situation, we have to change and do new [passport] controls.’
Suggesting Britain should reverse Brexit or join the bloc’s borderless Schengen area, of which Britain was never a part, he said: ‘But anyhow, nobody says what the best situation will be – to come to the situation before [Brexit] actually, with no controls.
‘We still have a few non-EU members that are members of the Schengen area, why don’t we explore such an idea?’
French police chiefs were meeting British border officials to discuss how the same debacle can be avoided this weekend.
Families were stuck in queues of more than 20 hours on Friday and Saturday, when the big summer getaway began after schools broke up.
Drivers said they were ‘treated worse than cattle’ and described how children changed into their pyjamas and brushed their teeth on the roadside while desperate passengers were forced to use the verge as a public toilet.
Less traffic is expected at the Dover and Folkestone ports this weekend, but they are still set to be very busy.
François Decoster, vice president of the Haute-de-France region, which includes Calais, said the UK had gone back 30 years because of Brexit and suggested the UK should ask the EU to let them join Schengen – the arrangement that allows free movement of people on the continent
Toby Howe, from the Kent Resilience Forum, which oversees the response to delays at Channel crossings, said better infrastructure, such as a new motorway or duelling single carriageways, would be ‘wonderful’ and ease congestion when problems arise.
There is only one motorway – the M20 – which stretches to the Kent coast. This was closed to non-freight traffic at the end of last week to instigate Operation Brock, which turns it into a lorry park to deal with the build-up of HGVs.
Mr Howe said: ‘We shouldn’t really have to be using our roads as lorry and car parks, we really need more infrastructure in place.
‘We’re really in a difficult situation in England. The Port of Dover and Eurotunnel really have very little limited space.
‘Over in France, they have a lot more space so they’re able to expand and allow more space with facilities, but we don’t have that luxury in Kent.’
The situation had largely returned to normal today, with waits of about 45minutes at the border in Dover and similar in Folkestone.
But misery was poured on Eurostar cross-Channel train services after cancellations, leaving British passengers stranded in France.
Thousands were crammed into overflowing departure lounges.
The 08.01 Monday morning Eurostar service from London to Paris was ‘cancelled for operation reasons’, Eurostar announced.
On Saturday families were still stuck in between 21 and 30-hour delays which saw them stranded in their cars overnight in queues at Folkestone, described as Britain’s ‘hotspot of holiday hell’. Children changed into their pyjamas and brushed their teeth on the roadside while desperate passengers were forced to use the verge as a public toilet. One passenger named Joan told LBC: ‘The hard shoulder is like a urinal’.
The debacle began on Friday morning when a ‘critical incident’ was declared at Dover where motorists faced waits of more than seven hours. The two days of gridlock at the start of the busiest school holiday season for years was blamed on a lack of French border guards after only six out of 12 booths were initially manned.
Jeremy Hunt said: ‘The bigger issue is that there is a lack of willingness in the French Government to be cooperative with Britain in any way at all because they are furious about Brexit, they are furious with Boris, they think we have mucked up their long term plan for a united Europe.
‘And I hope that when we have a new PM that we can have a reset with France and the EU so we can cooperate as good neighbours should’.
Lighter queues at Folkestone for the Channel Tunnel today after a weekend of chaos experts predict could be repeated through the summer
Vehicles queue at the border control booths at the Port of Dover yesterday, with some queues forming lines of several miles
Frustrated Eurostar travellers (pictured) say there were over 1,000 people queueing from around 10am to 11am yesterday. Trains were cancelled at the last minute today
Covid, Brexit or staff shortages – why IS your holiday going to hell? The reasons behind scenes of chaos gripping ports, railways and airports this summer
Britons have now faced months of travel chaos at airports, with concerns over last-minute cancellations or huge queues now a regular concern for passengers.
But the transport mayhem has spread to ports in recent days with six-hour queues experienced at Dover last Friday and long waits for the Eurotunnel at Folkstone.
Now another mode of transport to Europe has been hit, with passengers suffering delays and cancellations to Eurostar services to and from London and Paris.
And there is more disruption on the way this Wednesday when the effects of the UK rail strike are felt on train services between St Pancras and the Continent.
Here, MailOnline looks at what has gone wrong for transport networks in recent months amid a massive rise in demand as the pandemic has eased:
What happened at Dover?
Bumper-to-bumper traffic stretching for miles at the Port of Dover has marred the journeys of tens of thousands of families at the start of the school summer holidays.
There were also long queues on the roads approaching Eurotunnel’s Folkestone terminal over the weekend as people also tried to get to France under the Channel.
Why were the queues so big?
Extra post-Brexit border checks and French authorities’ understaffing of checkpoints in Dover have been blamed for the hold-ups – as well as a serious crash on the M20.
Are the queues still long at Dover?
The Port of Dover has been experiencing a busy start to the week today, but there has been no return so far of the severe disruption seen in the previous three days.
P&O Ferries said queues ‘picked up’ this morning, and it took an hour for passengers to clear French passport control. By the afternoon, P&O confirmed that the approach roads into Dover and the lanes at the front of the port were clear.
Toby Howe, senior highways manager at Kent County Council, said this morning that the queues at the Port of Dover were ‘normal for a Monday morning’.
National Highways reopened the coastbound M20 between junctions 9 and 11 in Kent at about 1am today – but it remains closed to non-freight traffic between junctions 8 and 9 as part of Operation Brock, in place due to the issues at Dover.
Cars queue at the check-in at the Port of Dover in Kent today as families travel on getaways
Is passport stamping causing the problems?
One of the main causes blamed for the delays has been the post-Brexit requirement for British passport holders to get their passports stamped, which is said to have increased the average time to check each car from 58 seconds to 90 seconds.
The reason for the stamp is that post-Brexit travel rules mean British nationals can only stay in the Schengen zone for up to 90 days in any 180-day period.
Britain was never a member of Schengen – but before Brexit the UK was subject to EU immigration law that allowed no border control, free movement for long-stay travellers and the right to work, study or live in the UK for residents of EU countries.
Asked whether the UK would like the French to stop stamping travellers’ passports, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘Generally speaking we have a good relationship working with our French counterparts on these juxtaposed controls.
‘It is for, obviously, individual governments to decide how to carry out checks at the border. Our view is that these should be done proportionately and sensibly given the good working relationships that we have.’
Is the trouble at Dover because of Brexit?
The Government has insisted changes to border control measures after Brexit did not have a ‘significant role’ in the disruption at Dover, and that problems occurred because French authorities did not provide enough border officials on Friday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said today: ‘We understand there are changes, post-Brexit. We recognise that, we have planned for that.’
The problems at Dover are down to a combination of factors ‘including a shortage of French border control staff’, the spokesman said, adding: ‘So these are not scenes that we think are necessitated by leaving the European Union.’
A view of the check-in at the Port of Dover in Kent today following a weekend of long delays
What do the French say about staff shortages?
The local French police body handling the northern France area around the Channel Tunnel said last Friday that problems with traffic coming over from Dover had been caused by an ‘unexpected technical incident’ under the Channel Tunnel.
François Decoster, vice president of the Haute-de-France region, which includes Calais, said the UK had gone back 30 years because of Brexit and suggested the UK should ask the EU to let them join Schengen which allows free movement of people.
Is Covid to blame for the problems at Dover?
There is no suggestion that staff illness – Covid or otherwise – has affected the lack of French border police in position at Dover.
However, the huge surge in passengers going on summer holidays is certainly related to Covid given that the pandemic-era travel restrictions have now eased.
What could happen this summer?
Toby Howe, senior highways manager at Kent County Council, said of the rest of this summer: ‘It’s a very vulnerable situation, it takes very little to cause further issues.
‘So, for example, last Friday night we had the Port of Dover telling us there was a lack of resource at the port but we then had a serious crash on the motorway as well so those two things together then really compounded the situation.
‘So you only need another crash on the road or maybe a train breaks down or there’s a power failure somewhere for it then to become a big problem.’
The Port of Dover has said the fact it was able to clear traffic this weekend demonstrates that its ‘summer plan will work for the rest of the holiday period’.
However the AA said ‘significant progress’ would be needed to help reduce congestion in the weeks ahead. The RAC Foundation said the delays at Dover were ‘stark evidence of how fragile our continental links across the Channel can be’.
What is happening on Eurostar?
British passengers were stranded in both England and France last night after final trains both from Paris to London and from London to Paris were cancelled.
There were also problems today – with the 8.01am train from London to Paris and the 1.13pm from Paris to London axed ‘for operation reasons,’ according to Eurostar.
Why are there problems on Eurostar?
The latest issues were caused by a broken-down train on the line in France, which caused on a knock-on effort on all services as passengers were forced to rebook.
There was then a build-up of queues yesterday because only four out on nine Eurostar ticket booths were open at Paris Gare du Nord station.
People queue for Eurostar trains at London St Pancras today as the summer holidays begin
Have the problems now subsided?
Eurostar is due to run a normal service for the rest of today and tomorrow, but there is further disruption expected on Wednesday because of strike action.
How will Eurostar be affected by the UK train strike?
Workers at Network Rail and 14 rail operating companies are set to strike in England this Wednesday in a dispute led by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT).
Although this strike does not involve Eurostar staff, it will have an impact on the timetable because running hours have been reduced on UK rail lines, including the high-speed line the operator uses.
Eurostar has cancelled three services from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord, five from Paris to London, one from London to Amsterdam Centraal (via Brussels Midi) and two from Amsterdam to London (via Brussels).
The operator has also warned passengers of changes to the departure times of some other trains that are still running – including the day after the strike, on Thursday.
There is also due to be a separate strike by members of drivers’ union Aslef at seven train operators on Saturday, but this is not expected to impact Eurostar services.
Eurostar passengers queue for trains at London St Pancras today amid the travel disruption
Will the number of Eurostar trains be increased?
Eurostar is thought to be pushing to increase the number of trains between the two capitals to 17 a day.
But French border police and security scanning personnel are said to claim they are suffering from chronic staffing shortages and cannot handle more services.
Which airlines have been worst hit by the chaos?
EasyJet has been one of the worst hit airlines for cancellations in recent months. It has axed thousands of flights, including many on the day they were due to depart.
British Airways has axed tens of thousands of flights in advance, with the latest batch revealed on July 5 coming because previous schedule cuts proved insufficient.
Passengers queue for check-in at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 2 this morning
Which airports have been most affected?
Gatwick Airport was badly hit earlier this year amid huge queues, although it has improved in recent months – in part because 400 new security staff have been hired.
Massive queues have also been seen at most other major airports at some point over the past few months – with Manchester and Bristol two of the other flashpoints.
Heathrow has also been very busy – and earlier this month introduced a cap of 100,000 daily departing passengers until September 11 in an effort to cut disruption.
Why have airports faced so much disruption?
One of the biggest issues has been a sudden rebound in passenger numbers towards the start of this year after they collapsed at the height of the Covid pandemic, when airports and airline operations were downsized as a result.
Some firms such as easyJet and British Airways have been struggling to ramp up their operations quickly enough to meet demand which has been surging.
All UK Covid travel restrictions are now lifted, which has been a major driver of resurgent demand, while airlines have also endured a high levels of staff illness both for Covid and other reasons.
Passengers queue to check-in at London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Two today
Why was there such a delay in increasing staff?
One of the major problems for airports and airlines was the extra security clearances and background checks required for people to work in the industry, resulting in a long time lag between someone being offered a job and actually starting the role.
Some industry bosses had also previously suggested that Brexit had played a role, because airlines no longer have access to a pool of EU workers to fill the gaps.
What is the situation now?
Many airports such as Heathrow and Manchester are still seeing large queues in terminals amid the start of the school summer holidays.
But there are now far fewer last-minute cancellations after airlines decided to pre-emptively cancel to cut disruption when people are travelling to or at the airport.
The Airport Operators Association has said: ‘The vast majority of passengers across the UK are now getting away on their holidays with no or minimal disruption.’
Holidays mayhem… and how to survive airlines, ferries and strikes, as an estimated 70 per cent of families take a break after two years of largely going nowhere
By Mark Palmer, Travel Editor for the Daily Mail
The baking temperatures which swept across Britain last week may have abated, but travellers are feeling the heat like never before as they look to enjoy a holiday abroad this summer.
It’s estimated that 70 per cent of families have planned or are planning a break following two years of largely going nowhere due to the pandemic.
These plans run the risk of being scuppered by disgraceful scenes such as those witnessed at the weekend at the Port of Dover and at the approach to the Eurotunnel station at Folkestone.
Savvy holidaymakers could be forgiven for thinking reaching the Continent by ferry or train would be a more sensible option than braving an airport. At airports, queues in some cases continue to stretch out of the terminals and, on your return to the UK, you may or may not be reacquainted with your luggage.
The baking temperatures which swept across Britain last week may have abated, but travellers are feeling the heat like never before as they look to enjoy a holiday abroad this summer. Dover is seen above on Sunday
Whatever your form of transport, misery awaits. And it’s not as if staying put in the UK is without its travails, as train unions plan strikes and main roads become an assault course of roadworks.
What makes matters worse is that no one accepts responsibility for this summer shocker. Airports blame the airlines for taking furlough money and then letting staff go; airlines blame the airports for not gearing up sooner and failing to anticipate surging travel demand.
Yesterday saw the unedifying spectacle of two heavyweight industry bosses slugging it out over who’s to blame, with former Heathrow chairman Sir Nigel Rudd accusing ex-British Airways boss Willie Walsh of ‘trashing’ the BA brand, in response to Walsh’s accusation that Heathrow’s dealing with the crisis has been ‘farcical.’
Similar skirmishes have broken out between French and UK officials over how many passport booths are manned at UK ports. What’s certainly missing from the British side, however, is a plan of action to limit the sort of disruptions we saw at the weekend.
We voted to leave the EU in 2016 – we’ve had more than six years to sort out a workable border policy with France. It hasn’t happened, and airlines – especially BA and easyJet – have been ill-prepared for the inevitable increase in travel traffic. The onus falls on holidaymakers to negotiate their own way through the chaos. Here’s a helping hand.
Some airlines have performed better than others. Jet2 – operating out of airports in the North and Midlands – laid off only a handful of workers and has kept cancellations down to a minimum.
Even for Londoners, flying from Birmingham airport with Jet2 might be less stressful that leaving from Gatwick with easyJet.
Ryanair, with some 134.5million passengers a year, is also a good bet. Tui, the largest tour operator in Britain, came in for criticism in early spring but says it’s now back on track and ‘confident of getting customers away on their well-deserved holidays’.
Opt for an early morning flight, less likely to be cancelled or delayed. Fly to short-haul destinations where an airline offers multiple daily flights so, if one is cancelled, there are others you can take.
Don’t turn up five hours before your flight; you won’t be able to check-in. Travelling on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday reduces the likelihood of cancellations (Sunday is particularly prone). When booking long-haul, pick countries where there may just be one flight a day as airlines will not want to cancel and have to rebook 350 people for the following day, requiring them to billet passengers in an airport hotel.
Opt for an early morning flight, less likely to be cancelled or delayed. Fly to short-haul destinations where an airline offers multiple daily flights so, if one is cancelled, there are others you can take. Bristol Airport is seen above on Sunday
The horrendous queues at the Port of Dover have been caused in part by insufficient numbers of French officials stamping passports, which is required now that we have left the EU.
Average time for a car to be cleared at Dover has increased from 25-30 seconds to between 70 seconds and two minutes. If you absolutely have to take a ferry from Dover, stock up on water and other supplies.
Download the Waze sat-nav, which gives up-to-date information about traffic jams and should find you an alternative route – although remember that thousands of others will be doing the exact same thing.
There are other options for reaching France. Ferries run from Newhaven to Dieppe and from Portsmouth to Caen, Cherbourg, Le Havre and St Malo. Three ferries operate between the UK and Spain – Plymouth to Santander and from Portsmouth to Bilbao and Santander.
The approach to Le Shuttle has become a bottleneck, with severe delays on the A20 and M20. Operation Block is in action. This is a set of measures introduced by National Highways to keep the M20 open in both directions between junctions 8 and 9.
What this means for cars is that they must leave at junction 8 and follow the diversion route using the A2, M2 and A20, while lorries stay on the M20 and join the queue. There are toilets and other facilities at the terminal, including ‘pets exercise areas’. Sign up for alerts at eurotunnel.com.
Keep abreast of ongoing strike action. Around 40,000 rail workers will walk out on Wednesday across 14 companies after the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union rejected what they called a ‘paltry’ pay offer from Network Rail.
The 24-hour strike comes a day before the start of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the RAC is warning of long delays on the roads as holidaymakers and commuters take to their cars.
Either leave at the crack of dawn or after the evening rush hour but check first with nationalhighways.co.uk, which tells you of any road closures a week in advance, with many of those taking place from 10pm-6am. With fuel prices soaring, it’s worth trying to avoid motorway service stations where costs on average are 37 pence a litre more than local garages.
Know your rights
If an airline cancels a flight, you are entitled to be re-booked on the next convenient one (with another airline if necessary), or given a refund that should be paid within 14 days.
If your flight is cancelled at short notice – within two weeks of departure – or delayed for more than three hours, you are due compensation.
This does not apply if the cancellation/delay is caused by ‘air traffic management decisions, political instability, adverse weather conditions or security risks’. Similar rules apply to ferry cancellations and delays.
Glimmers of hope
Airlines were given an amnesty last month over flight cancellations, whereby they could cancel without paying a financial penalty to the Civil Aviation Authority and would not lose their slots. That amnesty is now finished and so it is less likely that your flight will be cancelled.
Also, airlines – via outside companies contracted to them – are busy recruiting staff, which should see results later in the summer and into autumn. The first weekend after schools have broken up is often a mad scramble. We’re over that now. Hopefully.
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