The chaos on Friday – which led to a critical incident being declared in Dover – was sparked by the failure of France to staff all nine passport booths in the Kent town, an accident on the M20 and higher than expected numbers of holidaymakers travelling through the port.
However, Natalie Elphicke, Dover’s Tory MP, said the delays were not just about staffing but also the “unnecessarily slow and detailed way” in which French border officers were checking passports.
“The French should not be so-heavy handed. What’s needed is a common sense approach with speedy passport checks better reflecting the risk profile of hard-working families going on their summer break,” she told The Telegraph.
Tim Loughton, the Tory MP for East Worthing and Shoreham and a member of the Commons home affairs committee, said it was “entirely a French capacity problem”, adding: “If it takes so much longer to stamp passports, then why not have all of their booths staffed for the whole time or provide additional staff to man additional booths.”
Tony Smith, a former Border Force director general, said not all EU member states were stamping UK travellers, even though they were designated as coming from a third country. He suggested there could be contingencies to prevent a repeat of Friday’s chaos.
“The UK border and other borders around the world have contingency measures in place to deal with exceptional circumstances where certain checks could be waived on the authorisation of a senior officer,” he said.
Toby Howe, the senior highways manager at Kent County Council and the tactical lead at Kent Resilience Forum, said next weekend – the second busiest getaway of the summer holidays – was likely to be “very busy”.
“As we’ve just found out the weekend just gone, traffic numbers travelling across the Channel were back to pre-pandemic levels, and with the increased checks it is slower to get through so it takes very little to cause those tailbacks,” he said.
A Department for Transport source said Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, was in regular contact with Clement Beaune, his French counterpart, adding: “In the end, the best way to deal with these problems is through pragmatic dialogue – gaining assurances of frontier police staffing levels and the like. Less sound and fury, more get it sorted.”