British travelers hoping to cross to mainland Europe by the English Channel ports have been told to expect more delays after the first weekend of the summer holiday season saw huge queues build up around the port of Dover, and massive delays and disruption to travel plans.
At one point, there were reports that people were queuing up to 11 hours to get on board ferries across the Channel, with passport control taking up to one hour.
Before Brexit, British passport holders were often waved through by French customs with minimal inspection.
Although Britain’s new post-Brexit arrangement with the European Union came into effect in January last year, the pandemic meant that travel was significantly curtailed last summer. So, this year is the first chance to have a more realistic assessment of how the process will be in the future.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who is campaigning to be the next leader of the Conservative Party and Boris Johnson’s successor as prime minister, blamed the French authorities for shortages of passport control staff.
However, social media users have shared a report from the Financial Times in December 2020, which reported that the British Cabinet Office had rejected a 33 million pound ($39.7 million) proposal to double the capacity for French government passport checking booths at Dover from five to 10, because of the anticipated delays caused by the new regulations. In addition, travel journalist Simon Calder said it was “absolutely not the case” that the problems were down to the French authorities imposing rules, and the delays were an inevitable consequence of Brexit.
Referring to a headline in The Sunday Times newspaper that said “French insistence on passport stamp causing holiday chaos”, he said “British insistence on passport stamp causing holiday chaos” is actually the reality.
“Leaving the EU makes it much harder to leave the United Kingdom because we asked, we voted, we negotiated－or at least the government did on our behalf－to have an EU external frontier in Kent,” he said.
“Previously, when we were in the EU but not in Schengen, all French passport control could do was look at your passport and check it was you… very often they would wave us through. We asked for that to come to an end, we said ‘we want to be treated as third-country nationals’, whereupon the French are obliged, as the first frontier we reach in Europe, they are obliged to get everybody’s passport and stamp it.”
Toby Howe, senior highway manager at Kent County Council, told the BBC Radio 4’s Today that next weekend was also likely to be extremely difficult as “it’s the second busiest getaway weekend of the summer holidays”.
“It’s a very vulnerable situation, it takes very little to cause further issues,” he added.