Gridlock and delays at Dover as blame game begins between UK and France

Correspondent Martha Fairlie reports on another day of delays at Dover

Travellers faced long queues at Dover again on Saturday, as the blame game began between France and the UK as to who was responsible.

Scenes of gridlocked roads and bumper-to-bumper cars seen on Friday were repeated, as some lorry drivers saw waits of more than 18 hours.

Extra post-Brexit border checks and French authorities’ understaffing of checkpoints in Dover have been blamed for the hold-ups.

It comes during one of the busiest periods for foreign travel from the UK as most schools in England and Wales break up for summer.

Holidaymaker Angie Emrys-Jones and four family members, including three children, endured nearly 11 hours in a queue and were only able to board the Eurotunnel at 4.15pm – having joined the queue at 5.30am.

The 46-year-old from Cornwall said the family were “fed right up” and still had a 16-hour journey ahead of them to Umbria, Italy.

School summer holidays came to a standstill at Dover on Friday as Chloe Keedy reports

Why are there delays at Dover?

Foreign Secretary and Tory leadership hopeful Liz Truss said disruption at the Port of Dover was the fault of French authorities when asked if Brexit was the reason for the transport chaos.

Speaking at a campaign visit in Kent, she said: “This is a situation that has been caused by a lack of resource at the border.

“And that is what the French authorities need to address and that is what I am being very clear with them about.”

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office later tweeted a statement from Ms Truss, announcing she had spoken to French foreign minister Catherine Colonna.

She said: “I was clear the French authorities have not put enough people on the border and we need to see action from then to resolve the terrible situation which travellers, including families, are facing.”

The message came after a tweet from Ms Colonna, who stated the pair had a “good talk”.

Ms Colonna added: “We welcomed the cooperation between our competent technical services to reduce the delays. Need also to improve the facilities of the port of Dover.”

But French politician Pierre-Henri Dumont, Republican MP for Calais, has blamed 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.

Traffic queues on the M20 near Folkestone in Kent as delays at the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel continue to effect journeys. Credit: PA

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A French official said an "unforeseeable technical incident" in the Channel Tunnel meant that the staffing of border control booths had to be pushed back from 8.30am to 9.45am on Friday morning.

But Eurotunnel’s Director of Public Affairs John Keefe told the BBC that the Tunnel incident had "absolutely nothing to do with problems at the Port of Dover".

Passengers embarking on cross-Channel sailings from Dover must pass through French border checks before they can board a ferry.

The port said in a statement that it had increased the number of border control booths by 50%.

It went on: "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."

Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, said: "Drivers should continue to expect disruption and delays on major holiday routes to the south-west, eastern coast and ports of Dover and Folkestone.

"While many have decided to go at the start of the summer holidays, between now and the beginning of September when schools return, each Friday and Saturday will be busy on our roads.

"This is because these are the main switchover days for holiday lets."

Grant Shapps said he was "working closely" with the French transport minister.

The transport secretary tweeted: "There’s been severe delays today at Dover and so I’m working closely with my opposite number Clement Beaune to address the issues that caused tailbacks.

"I welcome his commitment that both Britain & France will work closely to minimise further disruption so people can get away quickly."

Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds accused the government of being "absent", amid another day of gridlocked roads, telling Times Radio that those in charge need to be "taking a grip of this situation."

On Friday evening, the French Embassy in the UK said French border checks in Dover were "operating in full capacity", adding that the French authorities were cooperating closely with their British counterparts and all stakeholders responsible for the traffic in the Port of Dover "to enable travellers to make their crossings under the best possible conditions."

While those queueing to cross the Channel were still facing three to four-hour waits by around 5pm, jams on many routes in the South East were cleared, according to the AA.

An AA Route Planner traffic warning was still being issued to holidaymakers heading towards the Port of Dover and the Eurotunnel terminal at Folkestone, while a backlog of freight remained to be cleared. However, the AA predicted roads would be much quieter on Sunday.