Voices: This summer of travel chaos illustrates a sense of malaise in Britain

·4-min read

How’s your great British summer of chaos coming along? Me? It’s going fantastically, in terms of chaos, disruption, dysfunction and general frustration. I’m not sure it’s even worth planning a trip to Asda, such is the state of the nation. I might make it to the end of my very small back garden, I guess. At least it’s been quite sunny there recently.

First, and by far the most significant contributor to my personal frustration, is the fact that I still haven’t got a passport. I applied in late February to have it renewed, and received an acknowledgement. So the application arrived OK. Obviously sympathetic to the post-pandemic, post-Brexit pressures on HM Passport Office, I left it for a few weeks. Then another few weeks. Then I looked around on the website, and it said not to bother contacting them because it will just make matters worse. So I left it again.

By last month, I had found a way to ask if they could look into the delay. After another week, they said that my case would be passed on to an examinations team to be “expedited”. Three weeks on and I’m still waiting for my new Brexit blue passport – made in, I believe, Poland – to materialise. I’ve been without a passport (also handy for proving ID) for five months now.

I don’t think my experience is unusual.

And it stands in stark contrast to the statement made by Boris Johnson to the House of Commons on 25 May: “To the best of my knowledge, everybody’s getting their passport within four to six weeks.”

It’s also at odds with what the Welsh secretary, Simon Hart, told MPs on 6 July: “Passport applications from Wales may be handled at all Passport Office processing sites throughout the UK. Between March and May, 98.5 per cent of UK applications were completed within the published processing time of 10 weeks.”

And with this, from Kevin Foster, junior Home Office minister, on 27 April: “The vast majority of applications continue to be processed within 10 weeks; in fact, over 90 per cent of applications were issued within six weeks between January and March 2022, despite the much-increased demand. HM Passport Office also provides an expedited service where an application from the UK has been with it for longer than 10 weeks; 42 applications have been expedited under these criteria since 31 March.”

I may be one of the unlucky 1.5 per cent or whatever who wait for even longer periods than those ministers describe, but I suspect not.

Even if I had a passport, I’d need a Covid certificate for some destinations. And if I had one of those, I’d still face the risk of the airline cancelling my flight at short notice, strikes causing more delays, and big queues at some EU airports, where they’ve decided not to pretend, conveniently, that Brexit was all a bad dream.

How about a continental driving holiday? Maybe not, with 9-hour delays around Dover in the heat and no comfort-break facilities. There’s always home, isn’t there? A nice vibrant city break, or a trip to the seaside. Maybe not, though, if the rail strikes are anything to go by.

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In the grand scheme of things, missing a fancy foreign holiday isn’t the end of anyone’s world, but I now look back even more fondly on the Blair era, when everything worked, inflation was low, there were plenty of jobs, there weren’t routine shortages, the hospitals were busy but not collapsing, an ambulance would turn up if you rang 999, a GP would see you, and the climate was temperate, with summers equable and pleasingly damp.

Not everything that’s gone wrong is due to Brexit, but it has knackered the economy and caused labour and supply shortages. Too many of our problems are down to that historic mistake of 2016.

There’s a sense of malaise about Britain now: a feeling that nothing much works very reliably for very long, we’re helpless in the face of rampaging inflation, there’s too much talk of war, and our politicians are a bit more corrupt and useless than usual. There’s an extreme bitterness about public debate, and there seems to be no end in sight to the misery.

Even the weather is unreal: an uncomfortable, sweaty sign of climate change. We’re not having a collective nervous breakdown – at least not yet – but our national crisis of confidence is intensifying. Things will get worse before they get better. And I can’t even flee the country.

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