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Travel chaos at Dover ferry port revives UK argument over Brexit effect | Travel

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Travellers trying to leave the UK by ferry faced delays at the country’s busiest port on Sunday, as a weekend of travel chaos threatened to spill into Easter week and prompted a renewed debate about the impact of Brexit.

P&O ferries are docked at the Port of Dover after extra sailings were run overnight to try and clear the backlog which has left passengers stuck in Easter traffic for hours, in Dover, Kent. Travel chaos at Dover ferry port during Easter week revives UK argument over Brexit effect (Andrew Matthews/PA via AP)
P&O ferries are docked at the Port of Dover after extra sailings were run overnight to try and clear the backlog which has left passengers stuck in Easter traffic for hours, in Dover, Kent. Travel chaos at Dover ferry port during Easter week revives UK argument over Brexit effect (Andrew Matthews/PA via AP)

All coach passengers were cleared on Monday after waiting several hours within a “buffer zone” inside the port before they could transit passport control and cross the English Channel. Cars and freight were “free flowing,” ferry operator DFDS said. In an earlier statement, the Port of Dover had said wait times were four to six hours — by the time the backlog was wiped out, about 900 coaches were to pass through in three days.

Further complicating the travel picture, staff at UK passport offices began a five-week strike on Monday, gumming up summer plans for thousands of Britons. More than 1,000 members of the PCS union will take part in the strike, which could mean delays to applications during the peak pre-summer period.

The Dover disruption renews the focus on the impact of Brexit after air and sea delays in 2021 and 2022 were largely blamed on Covid-19, workforce shortages and French border procedure. With Parliament in recess for Easter, tales of woe from travelers could provide an unwelcome talking point for Conservative activists out campaigning for next month’s local elections.

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Earlier, the port’s chief executive officer, Doug Bannister, told Sky News that the “post-Brexit environment means that every passport has to be checked” at Dover before passengers can travel on to France.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman denied that Brexit was to blame for the delays, saying that passengers need patience at “acute times when there is a lot of pressure crossing the Channel.”

Braverman’s view was refuted by travel journalist Simon Calder, who told Times Radio that the UK government had “asked for a hard EU frontier” in the wake of the 2016 Brexit vote. Former Conservative MP David Gauke suggested that the link was “not a contentious point, surely?”

Labour’s Lisa Nandy avoided directly linking the Dover delays to Brexit, accusing the Conservative government of more generally failing to put in place a system that could cope with demand. “The government has known for a very long time that they needed to make sure that there were resources in place to deal with additional paperwork checks,” said Nandy, who sits in the opposition shadow cabinet.

“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.”

While the Dover delays highlighted new hurdles to legal travel between the UK and Europe, Braverman was also pressed Sunday about the government’s pledge to sharply reduce the numbers of asylum seekers coming in the other direction.

The home secretary wants to push through a plan to detain and deport migrants who cross the Channel in small boats, and told the BBC that the government was exploring the use of “vessels” to house those who do make the dangerous crossing.

However, new polling by YouGov suggests just one-fifth of voters think Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will be able to deliver on his promise to “stop the boats,” The Times reported on Sunday.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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