Home Secretary Suella Braverman has rejected suggestions that Brexit could be the cause of delays at the Port of Dover as passengers on the Easter getaway faced long queues.
Extra sailings were run overnight to try and clear the backlog, which has left passengers stuck in traffic for hours, and by Sunday morning the port estimated some travellers would face waits of up to eight hours, depending on the ferry operator.
“P&O have some coaches waiting at the cruise terminal and DFDS have some at service stations in Kent.
“Once coaches are processed in an operator’s lane, more are being sent to the port. Currently, the estimated total time is six to eight hours dwell time.”
P&O Ferries apologised to customers on Sunday and later tweeted that by 3pm there was an initial wait of four hours, during which the advance passenger information (API) border check would be completed, before coaches were moved to a buffer zone ahead of boarding a ferry, where there was a delay of around six hours.
The port previously declared a critical incident and said the delays which began on Friday were “due to lengthy French border processes and sheer volume”.
It said it had been “working round the clock” with ferry operators and border agencies to try and get coach passengers on their way and more than 300 coaches had left the port on Saturday, while the freight backlog was cleared and tourist cars had been successfully processed.
DFDS said there were queues for coaches in the buffer zone where they wait before heading to the port but that cars and freight were free-flowing.
She said: “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 back-up and I just urge everybody to be a bit patient while the ferry companies work their way through the backlog.”
She also downplayed any fears that delays at Dover could become a regular occurrence that risks ruining school holiday plans.
She suggested that in general “things have been operating very smoothly at the border”.
“I think we have got a particular combination of factors that have occurred at this point in time.
“This will ease. I ask everybody to check their journey times carefully, but it is a busy time of year.”
On Saturday, passenger Rosie Pearson described the travel scenes in Dover as “carnage” as she was stuck for 16 hours with her husband and two teenagers.
Ms Pearson, 50, is an environmental campaigner from Essex and was travelling to Val d’Isere in the French Alps on an overnight bus.
Charity director Maggie Gordon-Walker, of Brighton, said her son’s school trip Italy’s Folgarida area had to be cancelled due to health concerns for the tired coach drivers caused by the delays.
Ms Gordon-Walker, who feels the delays have been “exacerbated hugely because of Brexit red tape”, told the PA news agency: “They arrived at Dover around 8pm yesterday (Saturday) and were shunted off to a services near Folkestone.
“They returned to Dover around 2am and stayed in the coach in the queue until 9.20am this morning, when it was decided the trip had to be cancelled on the grounds of health and safety because the coach drivers would have needed a nine-hour rest break upon arrival in France, so the school party would have been travelling for over 48 hours without sleep.
Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy said “a range of factors” have caused the delays, but she claimed the Government had not planned for what was going to happen post-Brexit.
She told Sophy Ridge On Sunday that ministers had “known for a very long time that they needed to make sure that there were resources in place to deal with additional paperwork checks”.
She added: “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.
“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.
“It didn’t need to be this way.
“If the Government got a grip, got down to brass tacks and started doing their actual job, all these things could be avoided.”