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Dover: UK-French taskforce set up to tackle travel chaos after huge queues build up at port | Politics News

A UK-French taskforce has been set up to tackle travel chaos in Kent after holidaymakers spent hours in gridlocked traffic trying to cross the Channel last weekend.

The Passenger Working Group has been established to minimise queue times and avoid further disruption for people travelling to either side of the border.

The group will meet weekly throughout the summer to avoid a repeat of scenes last Saturday, when families reported being stuck at the Port of Dover for up to 11 hours due to heavy congestion.

It follows a row over who is to blame for the huge tailbacks building up at both Dover and the Eurotunnel entrance at Folkestone, which has been dubbed the “hotspot of holiday hell”.

The UK has said there are not enough French border officers on duty to process British travellers, while the French say Brexit means passport checks take longer.

Authorities from both countries met this week to discuss the preparations being put in place to ease further disruption, which includes extra traffic enforcement to keep roads passable around Dover and Folkestone.

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Traffic leading to Port of Dover

The taskforce is part of a package of measures to ease travel disruption after the start of the summer holidays was marred by rail strikes, flight cancellations and border delays.

The AA has issued an “amber” traffic warning for this weekend – the first time it has issued the alert ahead of time.

Roads are expected to be “extremely busy” across Britain due to a combination of factors including train strikes, the start of the English Football League season, the Commonwealth Games and summer holiday getaways.

To ensure people can still easily get to the Commonwealth Games, the government said contingency measures have been put in place, including extra capacity on rail lines that are running and laying on coaches for spectators.

Ministers said flight cancellations have also recently fallen back to their 2019 levels after slot rules were relaxed to help airlines make sensible decisions about their schedule.

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The government has faced criticism for not doing enough to get a grip on the chaos, with authorities in Kent calling for more money to handle the disruption.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and lead minister for resilience Kit Malthouse said: “I am working with ministers and officials right across government, as well as our partners and industry, to assess and mitigate any disruption, including any knock on effects from the rail strikes.

“We have already taken action, and continue to work with the Port of Dover, Eurotunnel, and the French government, National Highways, local police and the Kent Resilience Forum on minimising traffic disruption, and also with our airport operators to avoid last minute cancellations, and we will continue to take all the necessary steps to help people travel easily.”

Roads to Port Of Dover ‘flowing normally’ after days of long queues | UK News

Traffic into the Port of Dover is returning to normal following days of queueing for France-bound travellers.

The port said on Twitter that, as at 2.15am on Sunday, the system brought in temporarily to handle traffic had ended, and that freight traffic was now able to travel straight to the site.

It added that tourist traffic was also “clear” and the approach roads – the A2 and A20 – “are flowing normally”.

Travellers setting out at the start of the British school summer holidays, as well as the usual flow of goods lorries, had faced long delays because of slow border checks.

The UK government had blamed a shortage of French border staff, and the French government had argued that passport checks were taking longer now that the UK is no longer part of the European Union.

On Friday, 8,500 cars were processed, but by lunchtime on Saturday, the number processed had already reached more than 17,000.

One family with three children in the car told Sky News they were stuck for nearly 11 hours, while another said they had been queueing for three hours, but they still had a long way to reach border control.

Natalie Chapman from haulier group Logistics UK said some lorry drivers had waited “in excess of 18 hours” to cross the Channel.

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Cars queue at the check-in at the Port of Dover in Kent as many families embark on getaways at the start of summer holidays for many schools in England and Wales. Staffing at French border control at the Port of Dover is "woefully inadequate" causing holidaymakers to be stuck in long queues, the Kent port said. Picture date: Friday July 22, 2022.

French regional prefect Georges-François Leclerc was asked by BFM TV if French customs officers were to blame for the delays seen on Friday and Saturday.

He said they were not, adding: “The Port of Dover, which is a private port, found it easier to blame the French police.”

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who is competing to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister, said: “This is a situation that has been caused by a lack of resource at the border.

“That is what the French authorities need to address and that is what I’m being very clear with them about.”

Anneliese Dodds, Labour Party chair, said the government had failed “to get a grip” on the problem, labelling it “chaos”.

Holidaymakers stuck in long queues as Port of Dover ‘critical incident’ declared | UK News

Holidaymakers are stuck in long queues heading into the Port of Dover – with French immigration being blamed for causing a “critical incident”.

The delays are “in excess of four hours”, P&O Ferries said, adding: “Please arrive prepared for a prolonged wait. Carry snacks and additional water with you.”

One traveller said they were moving “50 metres per hour”, tweeting: “At this rate it’ll be 34 hours before I get to the port!”

Another said: “Sat in lanes waiting to get to border control. Zero movement.”

The port said “woefully inadequate” French staffing was to blame for “major disruption” and a “critical incident” had been declared.

Its chief executive, Doug Bannister, told Sky News: “The cause of it is French immigration controls.

“We’ve been let down this morning despite the planning of the last several months to get ready for this day.”

The port said it had shared predicted traffic volumes with the French authorities “in granular detail” as it prepared for the summer holiday season.

Mr Bannister added: “This is causing major disruption. French border controls are not properly staffed.”

Foreign Office minister Graham Stuart agreed with the port’s assessment, telling Sky News the “French authorities” were to blame and it was not a “Border Force problem”.

The French have added “three additional booths”, he said, and “by yesterday morning, they had two of the three up and running”.

The transport secretary and French ambassador have both been involved, Mr Stuart said.

Car queue at the check-in at Dover Port in Kent as many families embark on getaways at the start of summer holidays for many schools in England and Wales. Staffing at French border control at the Port of Dover is "woefully inadequate" causing holidaymakers to be stuck in long queues, the Kent port said. Picture date: Friday July 22, 2022.
Image:
People are queuing for several hours

In a long statement, the port said it had “worked so hard in good faith” with local and government partners over the course of several months as it prepared for the “busy summer”.

It added: “We are deeply frustrated that the resource at the French border overnight and early this morning has been woefully inadequate to meet our predicted demand.”

Dover said it had “trained a new team of passenger champions to be on hand and assist customers at the port”.

It went on: “We know that resource is finite, but the popularity of Dover is not a surprise.

“Regrettably, the Police Aux Frontieres (PAF) resource has been insufficient and has fallen far short of what is required to ensure a smooth first weekend of the peak summer getaway period.”

The port said it was stressing the “importance of adequate French border resource for the coming days and weeks on which we had previously been assured”.

It concluded: “We have to work as a team.”

Roads to watch for delays over the weekend

  • M25 anticlockwise Junction 4 Bromley to Dartford
  • M4 eastbound Junction 30 Cardiff East to Junction 24 for the A449 Monmouth
  • M25 anticlockwise Junction 17 Maple Cross to Junction 12 for the M3
  • A303 westbound past Stonehenge
  • M25 clockwise Junction 7 M23 to Junction 16 for the M40
  • M5 southbound Junction 15 Almondsbury Interchange to Junction 23 for the A38 Bridgwater
  • M25 anticlockwise Junction 17 Maple Cross to Junction 12 for the M3
  • Source: RAC

Elsewhere, a “slow-moving convoy” has joined the M5 in a protest against high fuel prices, police have said.

The Avon and Somerset force said a “protest convoy of about 10 vehicles” had entered the motorway northbound at J24 for Bridgwater.

Police warned previously that the M4 and M32 could also be affected.

Fuel Price Stand Against Tax, a Facebook group with 53,000 members, shared a post suggesting activists will assemble “nationwide” to make their voices heard.

Protests are planned in Birmingham, Cardiff, Liverpool, London and Manchester.