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Why Brexit is to blame for holiday traffic chaos at Port of Dover

Why Brexit is to blame for holiday traffic chaos at Port of Dover

Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.

When it’s the start of the Easter holidays and you’re a transport hub and you’re trending on Twitter, you know things are not going well.

While all eyes (well, my four at least) were fixed on Heathrow Terminal 5, where a 10-day strike by security staff began on Friday, the traditional great getaway snarl-up this Easter turned out to be at the Port of Dover.

Thousands of coach passengers endured a miserable wait, many of them through the night. Factors as diverse as stormy weather and the French were blamed for preventing travellers from getting away on much-needed holidays.

“Blame,” though, is the wrong term here. We got what we signed up after a democratic vote to leave the European Union and asking to become “third-country nationals” in the eyes of the EU.

Yes, questions need to be asked about the “turn up and go” procedure that normally works pretty well at the main sea departure point from the UK. But the fundamentals that led to the disarray are clear – and are only going to get worse.

What we have seen over the past few days is the “coach variant” of the car snarl-up last July. That was the first contact, after Covid and Brexit, of large numbers of families wanting to escape to the Continent.

On the last day of March 2023, the first serious wave of school excursions, student trips to the Alps and the usual bunch of scheduled coach services converged on the corner of southeast Kent where we asked for a hard EU frontier to be installed.

Yes, a border of the kind that you see between the European Union and Russia and Turkey, only with juxtaposed border controls – which means that French border officers are following orders in inspecting the passport of every British traveller before stamping it.

Let me pause for a Brexiteer to heckle: “But we had to have our passports checked while we were in the EU. Nothing’s changed.”

Oh yes, it has.

Non-Schengen EU citizens, for example, Irish passport holders who travel from Dover to Calais, still get a light touch – all the frontier officials can do is check it is a valid travel document and belongs to the person carrying it.


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