Dover delays: Coach passengers finally reach port after huge backlog

UK Home Secretary rejects suggestions that Brexit could be cause of delays at port this weekend

Coaches wait to enter the Port of Dover in Kent on April 2. PA
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Delays at Dover have been eased after coach passengers who have been stuck in queues for up to eight hours finally made it into the port.

The travel delays began on Friday and passengers hoping to get away for their Easter break on Sunday night will face a few more hours of waiting to be processed at border controls and then get on a ferry.

Coach drivers were told by P&O Ferries to head straight to the port to join the buffer zone queues, where advance passenger information will be taken.

But they said there was a minimum of six hours' wait to reach the border checkpoints.

“All of this weekend’s coach traffic is now contained in the port ready for processing through immigration controls," the Port of Dover said on Sunday evening.

"Coaches have been processed throughout the day along with tourist cars and freight vehicles.

“The Port of Dover continues to work with the ferry operators and border agencies to get the remaining coach passengers on their way as quickly as possible.

“We continue to offer our sincere apologies for the prolonged delays.”

Earlier, Home Secretary Suella Braverman rejected suggestions that Brexit could be the cause of delays at the port as passengers endured long queues and cancelled trips.

Ms Braverman said it would not be fair to view the delays as “an adverse effect of Brexit”.

“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 told Sky News.

Ms Braverman also played down fears that delays at Dover could become a regular occurrence that ruins school holiday plans.

She suggested that in general “things have been operating very smoothly at the border”.

Extra ferry services were run overnight to try to clear the backlog but by Sunday morning the port still estimated some travellers would face waits of up to eight hours, depending on the ferry operator.

The port previously declared a critical incident and said the delays were “due to lengthy French border processes and sheer volume”.

Port officials said they had been “working round the clock” with ferry operators and border agencies to try to get coach passengers on their way.

More than 300 coaches left the port on Saturday, while the freight backlog was cleared and tourist cars had been successfully processed.

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 to Italy’s Folgarida area had to be cancelled due to health concerns for the tired coach drivers after the delays.

“They arrived at Dover around 8pm yesterday [Saturday] and were shunted off to a services near Folkestone," Ms Gordon-Walker, who feels the delays have been “exacerbated hugely because of Brexit red tape”, told PA.

“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.

“My son is knackered and deflated. I feel sorry for him and angry that this has happened.”

Ms Gordon-Walker said she had been paying for the trip in instalments.

Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy said “a range of factors” caused the delays, but she said the government had not planned for what was going to happen after Brexit.

Ms Nandy told Sky News 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”.

“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 said.

“I really feel for the families that are trying to get away for an 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.”

Updated: April 03, 2023, 6:01 AM