Don’t mention the B-word. Tobias Ellwood did once, but he thinks he got away with it.
The MP for Bournemouth East and chair of the Commons Defence Select Committee was the only Conservative member to suggest the border delays at Dover stretching to 15 hours might – just – have something to do with Brexit.
“Of course it’s connected to BREXIT,” he tweeted to his 93,000 followers. “Our current BREXIT model resulted in an end to travel freedoms. But as they weren’t replaced with new ones – processing takes longer – hence the delays. To compound matters – in Nov fingerprint scans begin. Hence we need a BREXIT upgrade!”.
He may be a lone figure on the Tory benches (John Redwood, increasingly resembling a ChatGPT interpretation of a right-wing Conservative MP, said “Why not take a holiday break in the UK to avoid the delays into France?”). But Ellwood’s pointing of the finger was echoed by others who may know what they are talking about.
Port officials have briefed that the disruption was largely caused by the increased processing times since Britain left the EU with every passport now having to be scanned and stamped. Dover has suffered delays at all peak times since post-Brexit border checks took effect on January 1, 2021 and Doug Bannister, the port’s chief executive, has previously said it was “absolutely true” that queues, first seen last summer, were the result of Britain’s exit from the bloc.
Suella Braverman, home secretary, hardline Brexiteer and likely leadership hopeful in any future Tory contest, rubbished claims the delays were in any way caused by Brexit, saying: “What I would say is at acute times when there is a lot of pressure crossing the Channel, whether that’s on the tunnel or ferries, then I think that there’s always going to be a back-up and I just urge everybody to be a bit patient while the ferry companies work their way through the backlog.” But that does not address the fact that 15-hour delays did not routinely occur before January 2021.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership, the UK’s largest network of independent travel agents, said: “Since the UK left the EU, the need for passports to be stamped and checked by French authorities – which is done at Dover – has created a bottleneck at the port and is a major contributor to the delays that have been experienced.” But then Tim Loughton, blowhard Tory MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, says: “It’s very fashionable to blame everything on Brexit. The problem isn’t with the fact that passports are being more rigorously checked.” Which do you think might actually know what they’re talking about?
The irony is that this – a real, tangible consequence of Brexit to those stuck on coaches bound for the Alps (one mother tells today’s Times: “I don’t think my son will believe me when I tell him we used to travel to France without even having a passport stamped”) – comes just a couple of weeks that ministers were briefing their client media that Rishi Sunak’s Windsor Framework meant Brexit was now done as a salient political issue.
In fact, in this area it is only just getting started. In November the EU introduces its long-delayed entry and exit system. All arrivals from outside the EU will have fingerprints scanned and a photograph taken on entering the bloc or European Economic Area countries. It will not be quick. It would not apply to UK nationals were we still a member state.
And it will be blamed by Sunak and Braverman, their incurious MPs and their pliant press on… high passenger numbers? French intransigence? The weather? Just don’t, you know, mention the B word.