Britain’s travel chaos could get even worse today, with further delays expected at the Port Of Dover as the UK and France continue to argue over who is to blame for the gridlock.
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, said: “As the schools closed their doors fully yesterday, Saturday could prove busier still this weekend.
“Drivers should continue to expect disruption and delays on major holiday routes to the southwest, eastern coast and ports of Dover and Folkestone.”
Every Friday and Saturday of the school holidays are likely to be busy, he added, as holiday rentals begin and end on those days.
Airports and airlines have struggled for months with the return to normal summer demand, resulting in thousands of flights being cancelled, delayed and baggage lost due to post-COVID recruitment issues.
On Friday the chaos expanded to include the Port Of Dover, with people waiting in six-hour queues to cross the Channel and officials blaming increased border requirements after Brexit.
Head of the port Doug Bannister said 10,000 cars are expected at Dover on Saturday, exceeding Friday’s 8,500.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme the build-up is due to “increased transaction times at the border… in a post-Brexit environment”.
Speaking to Sky News on Saturday morning, when lines started forming around 4am, Conservative MP for Dover Natalie Elphicke described Friday’s disruption as “appalling”, but warned “long, long delays” will likely continue through the weekend.
“It was a dreadful start to that summer getaway yesterday and an appalling situation for residents in Dover too. There simply weren’t enough French border police,” she said.
“Today I am hearing the French workers have turned up and they are expected to be manning the booths at capacity but there will be a knock-on effect as there always is when there is an issue that has happened at the ports.
“We are expecting long, long delays today, traffic has already been building up around the town and it is going to be a very serious situation on the roads again in Kent today.”
Roads to watch for delays over the weekend
- M25 anticlockwise Junction 4 Bromley to Dartford
- M4 eastbound Junction 30 Cardiff East to Junction 24 for the A449 Monmouth
- M25 anticlockwise Junction 17 Maple Cross to Junction 12 for the M3
- A303 westbound past Stonehenge
- M25 clockwise Junction 7 M23 to Junction 16 for the M40
- M5 southbound Junction 15 Almondsbury Interchange to Junction 23 for the A38 Bridgwater
- Source: RAC
Operator P&O Ferries said passengers should allow at least five hours to get through the security checks, adding that it expects Saturday to be “just as busy” as Friday was.
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss blamed French authorities for Friday’s “unacceptable” delays, calling on them to bring in more staff to handle the demand.
“We need action from France to build up capacity at the border to limit any further disruption for British tourists and to ensure this appalling situation is avoided in future,” she said.
“We will be working with the French authorities to find a solution.”
But French MP Pierre-Henri Dumont, who represents Calais, said the problems were “an aftermath of Brexit”, adding: “We have to run more checks than before”.
He also said that the Port Of Dover was too small and that there were too few kiosks for border staff due to the lack of space.
The port’s chief executive Doug Bannister was unable to offer any promises that the backlog would clear in the coming days, but said officials were doing their best.
He said that being “let down by poor resourcing at the French border was “immensely frustrating”.
Passengers sailing across the Channel from Dover must pass through French border checks before they can board a ferry.
The port said it had increased the number of border control booths by 50%, but added: “Regrettably, the PAF (police aux frontieres) 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.”
Grant Shapps said he was “working closely” with the French transport minister Clement Beaune, adding: “I welcome his commitment that both Britain and France will work closely to minimise further disruption so people can get away quickly.”
Mr Beaune re-tweeted the statement on Twitter.