British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Friday urged Paris to cut “unacceptable” delays at the English Channel port of Dover, where officials blamed the French border force for “ruining” summer vacations with hours-long queues.
Bosses at the port – the UK’s main gateway to mainland Europe – declared a “critical incident” and urged travelers abusing the schools that broke up this week to reconsider their travels as ferry companies warned of waiting times of six hours.
“Very deficient ruins of France’s border resources are entering the summer holidays,” the port said in a statement.
“Despite the port of Dover… which has been preparing for the busy summer period for several months, we are deeply frustrated that the resource on the French border has been woefully inadequate overnight and early this morning.”
Passengers must pass through border controls by French officials in Dover before boarding a ferry to northern France.
Most English schools start their summer holidays this week, making it one of the busiest times for travel across the Channel.
Later on Friday, Truss, who is in a summer battle with former Treasury Secretary Rishi Sunak to replace Prime Minister Boris Johnson, risked a diplomatic row when she labeled the “terrible” situation as “completely avoidable”.
“We need action by France to build capacity at the border to limit further disruption to British tourists and ensure this dire situation is avoided in the future,” she said in a statement.
Transport minister Grant Shapps took a more measured tone, tweeting that he was “working closely” with his French counterpart “to tackle the problems causing the traffic jams”.
“I welcome his commitment that both Britain and France will work closely together to minimize further disruption so that people can get out quickly,” he added.
Previously, French authorities claimed they had anticipated the increased holiday traffic and planned to maximize staff numbers on Friday morning.
But they blamed an “unexpected technical incident” in the Channel Tunnel that delayed the arrival of French personnel by more than an hour, causing backlogs.
“The traffic flow in the Port of Dover is the joint responsibility of several players, including in particular the shipping companies, the Port of Dover and the British authorities,” said Georges-Francois Leclerc, Prefect of the northernmost Hauts-de-France region of the country. .
He added in a statement that French officials would “continue to work closely with them in the coming days to manage the expected exceptional traffic”.
Within hours, Eurotunnel, which operates the vehicular train service across the Channel, rejected the explanation, saying it was “not responsible for the critical incident and the situation in Dover”.
It noted in a brief statement that the outage there had started in the early hours of Friday, while a “minor signaling problem” had occurred at Eurotunnel many hours later.
Doug Bannister, director of the Port of Dover, told BBC radio that the situation had improved over the course of the day and traffic had started to slow down.
But he admitted he didn’t know how long it would take to clear the backlog.
Aerial photos of the harbor showed slow-moving traffic in about eight lanes for about 300 meters, while other images posted online showed cars queuing back into the city of Dover and long lines of trucks on a nearby highway.
“Be aware that there is a lot of traffic at the border control in the port of Dover,” P&O Ferries told passengers.
“If you are booked to travel today, please allow at least six hours to complete all security checks.”
Twitter users complained that there was a total stalemate while waiting to board the ferries.
“I’m booked on the 8am ferry from Dover and it’s a total stalemate. Moved 50m per hour,” one wrote.
“At this rate, it will take me 34 hours to get to port!”
Dover and the surrounding roads have previously been a bottleneck for delays since Britain left the European Union, the Single Market and the Customs Union.
The queues are due to increased checks and extra paperwork for freight traffic.
Local Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke said there had been “weeks of preparation”, largely with French counterparts, for the tourist season.
“Despite all this, French border officials did not show up for work at passport controls when necessary.” she said.