Thousands of British holidaymakers queue at the English Channel

Unions, port officials and French authorities blamed Brexit on Saturday for thousands of holidaymakers facing long waits to cross the English Channel, while lorries remained stranded after the second day of travel chaos.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss blamed Paris squarely, insisting: “The French authorities have not put enough people at the border.”

However, officials across the Channel have dismissed claims that the standoff was caused by a staff shortage.

Border checks and extra paperwork for moving goods were reintroduced when Britain left the European Union last year, ending the free movement of people and goods in the bloc.

Truck bottlenecks in Dover have been seen since then, but this summer is the first with unrestricted travel for the public since all COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

French lawmaker Pierre-Henri Dumont, whose constituency includes the Channel port of Calais, has called the travel chaos a “Brexit sequel”.

“We need to carry out more checks than before,” he told BBC television, predicting it would happen again.

Port of Dover chief executive Doug Bannister initially blamed the understaffing of the French border agency as being responsible for the traffic jam, which saw some holidaymakers wait six hours or more to catch their ferries.

But he acknowledged there were now “increased transaction times” after Brexit. He added that the port was confident in managing demand at peak times.

Brexit figurehead Boris Johnson made the “regaining control” of Britain’s borders a call to his “leave” campaign during the 2016 vote on EU membership.

Since becoming prime minister he has found it more difficult, with record numbers of migrants crossing northern France in small boats.

Kent County Council leader Roger Gough estimated 3,000 trucks were waiting to arrive at the port on Saturday morning.

Kent Police said motorists should still expect ‘significant delays’.

Lucy Moreton, from the ISU union which represents border, immigration and customs staff, said the traffic jams were a “reasonably foreseeable” result of Brexit.

“It’s the moment when it’s chosen to bite,” she told the BBC.

Third country

Passengers must pass UK and French border controls at Dover before boarding ferries to northern France.

At 12:45 p.m. (11:45 GMT), the Port of Dover said more than 17,000 passengers had already passed through.

Bannister said some 8,500 vehicles left the port on Friday, with around 10,000 expected on Saturday.

Queues for the port snaked through Dover and surrounding roads, stretching for miles with trucks backed by the M20 motorway into the city.

A traffic management system has been deployed on the M20 to manage the high volume of lorries being turned back to Dover.

This included closing parts of the motorway to non-freight traffic and diverting cars to the port and the Eurotunnel via other routes.

Eurotunnel said its rail shuttle services for vehicles between Folkestone and Coquelles in northern France were two hours behind schedule.

The prefect of the Hauts-de-France region, Georges-Francois Leclerc, said France had “done its job” by increasing its border staff in Dover from 120 to 200.

He blamed the traffic jams on an accident on the M20 on Friday for the late arrival of French border agency staff at their posts in Dover.

But he suggested the port itself had not done enough to handle the surge in traffic, which typically jumps from 5,000 to 10,000 vehicles a day during the busy summer.

All French staff were on duty at 9:45 a.m. (0845 GMT) instead of 8:30 a.m., the prefect told reporters in Lille.

“Who would have thought that because the French reinforcements were an hour late, it would derail the whole system?” he added.

“Last year there was COVID-19. We are learning about Brexit” and its impact on peak periods.

“The world has changed. The UK is now the third country in the EU”, which means much longer checks.

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