Why do they always do these things over busy holiday periods? The UK Government is bringing new stricter passport controls in for everyone leaving and entering the UK starting from the 8th April 2015.
Yes that’s just a week after the Easter weekend, you know the weekend I'm talking about the one where thousands of UK residents start driving over to France via hundreds of Ferries for holidays and day trips to Disneyland Paris etc.
A spokesperson for P&O ferries, Mr Brian Rees, said that P&O had “advised the government that the school Easter holidays was not the best time to start such an operation. We would have preferred to avoid the holidays altogether.”
Well you don’t have to be a genius to work that out, in fact not only is it “not the best time” it is without doubt the absolute worst time.
I've been selling Car driving kits (see here) to people from the UK driving in France since 2008 and I know for an absolute fact that after a quiet period throughout the winter months Easter is when every man and his dog packs up the Volvo and heads for France.
The ferry companies have warned that the tailbacks could be as long as 5 miles which is a scary thought if it’s anywhere near that bad. Of course the ferry companies may well be over egging it slightly but even so this will not be good for travellers and I fear a lot of people will be late for ferry crossings.
Theresa May the UK Home Secretary is considering some contingency plans to reduce long queues at Dover but I don’t have much faith that things will run smoothly the day this starts.
She told MPs that the introduction of the new passport checks at ferry ports had already been pushed back beyond the Easter weekend to avoid bank holiday chaos.
At this time we are not sure if they intend to check the passport of all coach passengers as well, but if they do it could be even worse than originally feared. Approximately 400 coaches a day go through Dover on holiday periods.
The Home secretary had discussed, during a grilling by the Home Affairs committee, the fact that there could even be “public order problems”.
If 50 grannies on a coach start turning nasty we may need the SAS to sort it out.
If you are going over to France on the weekend of the 8th, 9th and 10th of April then I would advise leaving earlier, but the trouble is just as bad if everyone arrives early as it doesn’t speed up boarding times it just means everyone is sat there waiting.
If you are going the following weekend we should have an idea of how well (or not) the system is working by then so make sure you follow us on twitter for updates. @DrivinginFrance
When tests of the exit checks were carried out in November 2014 it almost doubled the average check-in time for cars and increased by about a third the time for freight traffic.
On the busiest days more than 7.5k cars get onto ferries at Dover and based on the best estimates these new passport checks could result in queues of over 650 cars in length. As many as 50 ferries a day sail from Dover when it’s busy.
The busiest day of the year during 2014 saw nearly 12k cars go through the port to go driving in France. On a day like that the traffic jams will reach back further than Folkestone blocking the A20 for mile after mile.
I think I’d be tempted to partake in some civil disorder under those circumstances.
The UK Chamber of Shipping’s Tim Reardon was very sceptical of the Government’s handling of this and called for the Government to relax the checks on the very busiest days.
These new checks are not anti-terrorism related but are purely to check for illegal immigrants.
The only saving grace is that even though all passports will have to be scanned only a quarter of them will have the details of them verified to make sure they are genuine, but this will increase to half after 4 or 5 weeks and by the end of June 2015 100% verification will take place. Just in time for the busiest period of the year July and August!
Will these checks remain long term or will they be relaxed after the general election? All political parties like to appear tough on immigration right now, but I wonder how this will be handled going forward after May this year.
If you remember Brodie Clark, the senior civil servant at the centre of the border checks row at airports in Nov 2011 quit his job as head of the UK border force, and openly attacked Teresa May for making him a scapegoat. That was due to an argument over relaxing entry checks at airports in order to reduce queues.
I wonder what will happen in the coming weeks if tailbacks get so bad that half of Kent is gridlocked.
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