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Travel chaos at the Dover border

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©Gary Perkin

Significant delays have been experienced in Dover in recent days, raising concerns that long-term congestion at the UK border could persist

The problems were significant as traffic came to a standstill and many waited in their cars and trucks for more than five hours.

While there appear to have been improvements at Dover, there are still concerns about the free flow of traffic. In the ensuing debate about the question of guilt, two sides seem to emerge Immigration Services Union Secretary-General Lucy Moreton says Brexit is to blame and others suggest French mismanagement of border.

The Brexit Effect on Border Mismanagement and Control

There was a lot of political promises and rhetoric during the Brexit referendum Campaign. Some of these statements have been regularly reposted on social media and featured in recent political debates, such as the promise to fund the NHS and other essential social services with the weekly ‘membership fee’ paid to the EU. Funding that didn’t materialize. Statements by prominent vote-leave politicians about the Channel Tunnel and the Port of Dover have also been resurfaced recently.

One of the issues raised during the Brexit referendum campaign was what Boris Johnson called our “legislative morass”. It was hypothesized that leaving the EU would have no direct impact on the controls required at the border, with concerns dismissively seen as part of a broader fear campaign. Leaving the EU gave the UK the opportunity to tear up unenforceable regulations and make our own rules, potentially improving trade and travel. Phrases like cut red tape were regularly used by prominent advocates of deregulation. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the stream Minister for Brexit Optionsfor example, said in an LBC interview that delays were occurring in France, not Dover, and explained “There will be no need for controls at Dover”.

“There will be no need for controls at Dover”.

France plans to introduce more security checks such as collecting fingerprints and other biometrics from passengers at Dover and in the Eurotunnel. The data collection will also potentially include photos and videos that would be collected on a tablet by French border officials. The French authorities are currently discussing these new measures which, if implemented, will pose an additional problem for congestion and travel. The French proposals come in response to previous problems faced by UK border officials because France wanted passengers to leave their cars for these checks to take place, a practice the UK has said is unworkable.

project anxiety

Part of the way the discussion ended previously was by suggesting that fear was being manufactured. Accuse your political opponents of involvement in “project anxiety‘ was a well-established strategy to try to undermine legitimate concerns. The strategy is used by a wide variety of ideological currents, from right-wing populism to separatist independence campaigns. It’s an easy way to dismiss an argument by implying that the person making the point may have a larger ulterior motive, which is to unfairly discredit or obfuscate based on fear. However, it appears that these trade and travel concerns were correct and that the same free flow of traffic as during our membership of the EU was not a given and that post-Brexit additional security measures and controls would be required.

Chris Grayling said at Question Time in 2018 that we would maintain a free-flowing border at Dover and not introduce port controls. The former transport sectarian made these comments to assure that no restrictions and delays would be imposed. However, it appears that these warranted statements were made without reasonable legal forethought or evidence. Indeed, France has blamed Brexit for the recent border unrest, and it seems that this argumentative skeleton is here to stay. The UK has accused France of a shortage of French border guards. Blame and responsibility for the problem is not imminent.

Natalie Elphicke, MP for Dover, tweeted on July 28: “Now that we’ve left the EU, it’s time to cut the red tape and bureaucracy that’s holding us back.” The use of bureaucracy and bureaucracy is invoked again. She further clarified her position in an ITV interview

“However, what we need going forward is not just to rely on the French to do the right thing and speed up the processes, we need to make sure we have the infrastructure ourselves to handle all these difficult situations, that we have with French, and that means investing in the borders, investing in the roads, breaking the bureaucracy that prevents the national infrastructure from being delivered, and making our roads and ports resilient for the future.”

Delays are therefore positioned as a problem as the French are not doing the right thing, which is an expedited border procedure for travelers and goods, similar to what we had during our integration into the EU. The infrastructure and investments we currently need at our own border are seen as a mitigation strategy to deal with difficult situations with French authorities, rather than an admission that we need more targeted investments that have been under-provisioned post-Brexit, alongside the effectiveness of diplomatic cooperation.

The impact of border management on the tourism sector

These problems have one Impact on the tourism industry due to more travelers potentially missing cross-channel ferries, but the potential delays will put many off even making the journey. Those travelers who decide to stop going on holiday will burden organizations across the EU with hidden costs, particularly hospitality companies that rely on strong tourism numbers. Other external factors such as the cost of living crisis are expected to have a negative impact on disposable income, meaning the tourism and hospitality industry is in for a challenging year.

The delays at Dover are adding to the mounting problems facing airports across the UK in meeting normal traveler demand, with staff shortages a holdover from pandemic cuts blamed on flight delays and cancellations. UK residents who have attempted to avoid flights due to airport mismanagement and insecurity will be disappointed to find that alternatives do not necessarily help. The tourism industry faces a real challenge in responding meaningfully to uncertainties surrounding delays and restrictions. However, part of the solution starts with national transparency and clarity instead of anti-EU political points.

This piece was created by Dr. Michael Palkowski, Institute of Hospitality and Tourism at the University of East London

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