Holidaymakers and residents have been warned there is a “way to go” to clear the backlog at Dover with a “very busy” day expected but port authorities expressed relief at improved levels of French border staff.
Some 10,000 cars were expected at the port on Saturday, with more than 13,000 passengers said to be “on their way” before 10am.
Scenes of gridlocked roads and bumper-to-bumper cars seen on Friday were repeated as travellers, some of whom got out of their vehicles to stretch their legs while traffic was at a standstill, endured more lengthy waits.
Port of Dover chief executive Doug Bannister indicated that five to six-hour delays could still be the case on Saturday, which was already expected to be a busier day than Friday.
This is one of the busiest periods for foreign travel from the UK as most schools in England and Wales have broken up for summer.
Chaotic scenes at the port have prompted Foreign Secretary and Tory leadership hopeful Liz Truss to blame France for “entirely avoidable” delays, calling on officials there to “build up capacity at the border to limit any further disruption for British tourists and to ensure this appalling situation is avoided in future”.
Ms Truss re-stated her belief that the problems are down to not enough border resources, rather than extra checks post-Brexit, when asked directly about it at a Tory leadership campaign event on Saturday.
She said she had been “very clear” with French authorities that it is “a situation that has been caused by a lack of resource at the border”.
But French politician Pierre-Henri Dumont, Republican MP for Calais, blamed the UK’s exit from the EU for the chaos, telling BBC News it was “an aftermath of Brexit” with more checks needed and claiming the Dover port is “too small” with too few kiosks due to lack of space.
Passengers embarking on cross-Channel sailings from Dover must pass through French border checks before they can board a ferry.
Mr Bannister, who on Friday said it was “immensely frustrating” to be be “let down” by poor resourcing at the French border, has also stated that there will be “increased transaction times” at the border due to extra checks needed.
He told the BBC Radio Four Today programme: “We are operating in a post-Brexit environment which does mean that passports need to be checked, they need to be stamped and indeed the capable people that do man the booths, police aux frontieres, they’re doing their job that they need to do now.”
He said the port had “created more border capacity so that the overall throughput can be maintained” and that while their modelling had shown some “very peak busy days during the summer season” are expected, “for the most part we should be able to cope with the traffic”.
In an update on Saturday, port authorities said they were “relieved that French border staff (Police Aux Frontieres) have now been fully mobilised at French border controls in Dover”, but warned: “There is of course a way to go to clear the backlog of waiting passengers.”
The statement added: “Today is going to be very busy, with more UK tourists heading to Dover in order to travel to France.”
Mr Bannister said he welcomed the “commitment shown by both French and UK authorities to resolve the issue”, and said the required staffing levels must be maintained for the rest of the summer “so that we can begin to return to the positive experience we had planned for those going on their well-earned breaks”.
In a tweet, the Port of Dover Travel account said: “At 1245 #PortofDover has assisted 17,215 passengers on their way so far today.
“We are working hard with our partners to get all passengers on their way as quickly as possible.”
Local MP Natalie Elphicke said “long, long delays” are expected again and insisted French authorities “should apologise to Dover residents and holidaymakers for the unnecessary holiday chaos at the start of the summer getaway”.
She also called for an end to “this sticking plaster approach – to invest in the roads, lorry parking & port facilities to support the @Port_of_Dover, Kent and Dover to grow & thrive”.
While those queueing to cross the Channel are still facing three to four hours waits, jams on many routes in the South East were cleared by around 5pm on Saturday afternoon, according to the AA.
An AA Route Planner traffic warning was still being issued to holidaymakers heading towards the Port of Dover and the Eurotunnel terminal at Folkestone, but only a few isolated pockets of heavy traffic remained elsewhere.
Roads are expected to be much quieter on Sunday, but a backlog of freight remains to be cleared.
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, said: “The picture throughout the day has been one of steady improvement. Travellers heading to holiday homes away from the South East earlier today would’ve felt some congestion around lunchtime and into the early afternoon, but those queues have now fallen away.
“It will be of little comfort to those still stuck in traffic heading to Dover and Folkestone that are still in for a long delay, but the backlog has been reducing. The next challenge facing these two key terminals is how quickly they can clear the lanes of lorries waiting to cross the Channel.”
Ferry operator P&O Ferries warned of “heavy traffic at border control” and urged passengers to allow at least three or four hours to clear approach roads and security checks ahead of their sailing.
Natalie Chapman from haulier group Logistics UK said some lorry drivers had waited “in excess of 18 hours” to cross the Channel.
She blamed a number of factors for the delays and backlogs seen on Saturday, including a lack of resourcing at French border control, increased traffic due to problems with airlines, and Brexit changes which mean longer processing times for people crossing the Channel.
She added: “As I say the cause was that lack of resource yesterday but also, of course, in takes a lot longer to process through traffic than it used to.
“You used to, prior to Brexit, just wave your passport and they may or may not be looked at but now every one is checked and stamped.”
Anneliese Dodds, Labour Party chair, said the Government had failed “to get a grip” on the problem, labelling it “chaos”.
But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he had been “working closely with my opposite number Clement Beaune to address the issues that caused tailbacks”.
On Friday evening, the French Embassy in the UK said French border checks in Dover were “operating in full capacity”, adding that the French authorities were cooperating closely with their British counterparts.
More than 100 fixed-penalty notices have been issued in the past 24 hours for non-compliance with rules for freight drivers, Kent Resilience Forum (KRF) said.
EU-bound hauliers have been warned that not complying with signage to follow the Operation Brock traffic management system on the M20 and trying to jump the queue risks a £300 fine as well as removal to the back of the queue.
Toby Howe, KRF tactical lead, said the forum is “working hard to keep traffic moving” but that “due to the disruption being experienced at the ferry ports and Eurotunnel it is important that drivers should plan for lengthy delays” and ensure they have enough water, food and medicines.