UK home secretary Suella Braverman on Sunday insisted that fresh disruption at the Port of Dover was not a consequence of Brexit and would not be a regular occurrence for travellers, after hundreds of people attempting to cross the English Channel were forced to queue for hours.
The port, which declared a critical incident on Friday, has blamed the delays ahead of the Easter weekend on “a mix of lengthy immigration processes at the border and sheer volume of traffic” as well as adverse weather conditions.
Amid reports of passengers waiting for as long as 14 hours, some ferry operators such as P&O Ferries launched sailings overnight on Saturday to help clear the backlog.
Britain’s busiest port has been beset by delays at times of peak traffic since Brexit, notably last summer when there was an Anglo-French dispute over the handling of passengers. But speaking to Sky News, Braverman rejected suggestions that the delays were influenced by the UK’s departure from the EU.
“No, I don’t think that’s fair that has been an adverse effect of Brexit,” she told the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme. “What I would say is at acute times when there is a lot of pressure crossing the Channel, whether that’s on the tunnel or ferries, then I think that there’s always going to be a backup and I just urge everybody to be a bit patient while the ferry companies work their way through the backlog.”
Challenged on the BBC as to whether the public should expect delays every school holiday, the home secretary replied: “No, not at all.”
“I don’t think this is the state of affairs to go forward,” she said, speaking on the Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg show. “I think we have got a particular combination of factors that have occurred at this point in time. This will ease.”
A spokesperson for the Port of Dover said that more than 300 coaches left on Saturday, “with all of the freight backlog cleared and tourist cars processed successfully”, but noted that there remained some “coaches still waiting to be processed”.
They added: “Minimal freight is expected today and so the focus remains on ensuring all partners work to get the remaining coaches and other tourist traffic on its way as soon as possible.”
Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy argued that the government had “known for a very long time” that it needed to ensure adequate resources were in place to deal with “additional paperwork checks” post-Brexit.
“The point is not whether we left the European Union or not. The point was that we left with a government that made big promises and once again didn’t deliver,” she told Sky News. “And I really feel for the families that are trying to get away for a Easter break, people who have been caught up in this chaos, people whose livelihoods are threatened.”
The government has said that it remains in regular contact with “ferry operators, the French authorities, and the Kent Resilience Forum” — the county’s emergency planning group. A spokesperson added: “We recommend passengers check the latest advice from their operators before travelling.”