French authorities have been accused of punishing British holiday makers for voting to leave the European Union by severely understaffing the border at Dover which left an estimated quarter of a million holiday makers and travellers stranded on roads leading to the port yesterday.
Thousands of cars, buses, and lorries were stranded on the A20 and A2, with some motorists stuck for up to 14 hours in sweltering heat as many attempted to drive to Europe at the start of the school summer holidays. Heightened security checks on vehicles traveling to France in the wake of last week’s Nice attacks were partly to blame for the significant delays, but it emerged that there were almost no French border staff on duty to check vehicles.
The BBC reports a spokesman for the Port of Dover Authority who said the border control booths at Dover which are manned by French security, just as the border booths in Calais are run by British border force officers were “seriously understaffed”. It has been reported there was just a single French officer to cover all coaches attempting to board ferries yesterday.
Standstill towards port of Dover pic.twitter.com/QytmQWBtWU
— Dover Seagull (@dover_seagull) July 23, 2016
Blasting France for cutting staffing at the port on one of its busiest days of the year, British Conservative Party chairman Patrick McLoughlin spoke out on the Andrew Marr Show this morning. While he acknowledged the security situation in France, he called the events of yesterday “purely unacceptable”, remarking: “I think we can understand why the French would want to increase security after Nice last week, that is understandable… what is unacceptable is just the way people have been left in the lurch.
“There was just one person checking the coaches as I understand it, and that is just purely unacceptable. I know there have been discussions between our government and the French government to make sure we can try and ease the situation as much as we possibly can but I do think we have to acknowledge the horrendous incident in Nice would have put the French authorities on higher alert”.
British border staff are to assist their French counterparts in order to reduce delays at the Port of Dover. pic.twitter.com/MZhAqPNsOx
— UK News (@UK__News) July 24, 2016
Individuals including Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen have questioned whether the chaos was politically motivated revenge by the French for Britain voting to leave the European Union. Speaking to the MailOnline who reproduced his remarks, Mr. Bridgen asked why the French felt the need to boost border security with Britain when border checks in the nation were already among the strongest in Europe, saying: “We wouldn’t exactly be considered the weakest link when it came to European security checks.
“If it’s a reaction to Brexit – which I hope it’s not – it’s a strange thing to do to damage their tourism industry as a response a democratic decision by the British people”.
Chairman McLoughlin rejected the notion, however. When asked whether he thought it was a Brexit-stunt by the French government, he said cross-border tourism was too mutually important. He responded to the question posed by Andrew Marr: “No I don’t think so, I don’t think so at all. To us and the French tourism is a very important industry, and nobody wants to see people starting their holidays getting frustrated in the way they are and held-up”.
Border chaos in Dover continues today and will likely spill into tomorrow as backlogs clear and the border remains understaffed. Kent Police released a statement this morning warning motorists to expect 10 hour delays today, and more delays for the next two days. Following the police helicopter being pressed into action yesterday to air-lift bottled water to stranded motorists, they said water is still being distributed today and toilet facilities have been deployed for those in queues.