British government warns of months of delays at Channel ports in case of no-deal Brexit

The British government's emergency planners are predicting months of long delays at crossings between France and the UK in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

British government warns of months of delays at Channel ports in case of no-deal Brexit
The British government is predicting severe delays at Channel crossing points. Photo: AFP

The British government's Operation Yellowhammer emergency plan – which has been published after a challenge from MPs – has warned of severe disruption at Channel ports in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

The document, written last month, outlines a series of “reasonable worst case assumptions” should Britain leave the EU with no deal.

Thousands of people and vehicles pass every day between France and the UK on ferries, the Eurostar and the Channel tunnel and all terminals are expected to see significant disruption the day after Brexit day if the UK crashes out without a deal.


Around five million lorries a year pass between France the UK. Photo: AFP

The British government's document acknowledges that: “France will impose EU mandatory controls on UK goods on Day 1 of No Deal and has built infrastructure and IT system to manage and process customs declarations and support a risk based control regime.”

The French government has been putting in plans for a no-deal scenario for more than a year now, which includes building extra infrastructure at the Calais terminal and employing hundreds of extra border control and customs officers.

Tests will begin to be run in real-time next week to ensure that the new systems are as efficient as possible.

Despite this, however, the British government is warning that businesses in the UK are badly under-prepared for a no-deal scenario.

The document warns that: “On day one, between 50 and 85 percent of HGVs travelling via the short Channel Straits may not be ready for French customs.

“The lack of trader readiness combined with limited space in French ports to hold “unready” HGVs could reduce the flow rate to 40-60 percent of current levels within one day as unready HGVs will fill the ports and block flow. 

“The worst disruption to the short Channel Straits might last for up to three months before it improves by a significant level to around 50-70 percent (due to more traders getting prepared), although there could continue to be some disruption for significantly longer.”

France has already hired hundreds of extra customs officers. Photo: AFP

France's Europe Minister told reporters in Paris on Wednesday that the country was doing all it could to create an “intelligent border” using technology such as number plate recognition, facial recognition technology and barcodes.

But for businesses importing and exporting goods much of this will rely on getting the correct permits and barcodes ahead of time, and the British government has admitted that many UK companies are not prepared for this.

The Operation Yellowhammer document adds: “In a reasonable worst case scenario HGVs could face maximum delays of 1.5 to 2.5 days before being able to cross the border.

“HGVs that are caught up in congestion in the UK will be unable to return to the EU to collect another load and a proportion of logistics firms may decide to avoid the route should there be significant and prolonged disruption.”

Although the worst disruption is likely to be to commercial transport, individuals could well be caught up in the chaos.

UK citizens travelling after a no-deal Brexit will also face increased immigration checks.

The document adds: “This may lead to passenger delays at St Pancras, the Channel Tunnel and Dover where juxtaposed controls are in place.

“Dependent on the plans EU Member States put in place to cope with these increased immigration checks it is likely that delays will occur for UK arrivals and departures at EU airports and ports. This could cause some disruption on transport services.”

The current Brexit date of October 31st will also coincide with half term for some British schools, which is usually a busy travel time, with the first day after Brexit day falling on a Friday.

Paris' Gare du Nord station has already seen several weeks of disruption earlier this year as French passport control officials staged industrial action over the extra work that is likely to be created by Brexit.

They responded by applying all the extra checks that they say will be needed after Brexit to passengers arriving on the Eurostar – and the result was queues of up to five hours.



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France may cut Channel islands ferry service after post-Brexit collapse in visitor numbers

Visits to the Channel islands from France have halved since Brexit, and French local authorities say they may be forced to cut the regular ferry service, asking for the passport requirement to be waived for French visitors.

France may cut Channel islands ferry service after post-Brexit collapse in visitor numbers

Travel to and from the Channel islands – which are British crown dependancies – has reduced significantly since Brexit, when passports became a requirement for those travelling in and out of the islands and their ports.

Now the president of the local authorities in the Manche département of France has asked that passport requirements be lifted, with hopes of increasing travel to and from the islands.

Jean Morin told Ouest France that there has been a “considerable reduction in the number of passengers on routes between the Channel ports and the islands” and as a result the ferry service between France and the islands was seriously in deficit.

“On these lines, we will never make money, but we cannot be in deficit”, explained the Morin. 

He added that if a solution is not found by the deadline of May 1st, 2023, then local authorities will stop funding the shipping company DNO, which runs the Manche Îles Express ferry service.

“If the passport requirement is not lifted by then, we will have no choice but not to renew the service contract for 2024-2025”, Morin told Ouest France.

Only around half of French people have a passport, since the ID card issued to all adults is sufficient to travel within the EU. 

READ MORE: Ask the Expert: How Brexit has changed the rules on pensions, investments and bank accounts for Brits in France

DNO re-launched operations in April and since then, the company, and by extension the département – who plays a large role in funding it via a public service delegation – has been losing significant funds.

According to Franceinfo, the number of passengers has been cut in half since passport requirements were introduced. Franceinfo estimates that for one ticket for one passenger costing €30, the département spends €200.

According to Morin, the ideal solution would be to require a simple ID for tourists seeking to take just day-long or weekend-long stays on the islands – which reportedly represents at least 90 percent of the boats’ usual passengers.

“The Jersey government is working hard on the issue and is waiting for an agreement from London and the European Union. There is the possibility that things could move quickly”, Morin told Franceinfo on Tuesday.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, boats going to and from the French mainland carried at least 110,000 people per year. In 2022, only 40,000 passengers made the journey, Olivier Normand, the sales manager of Manche Îles Express, told Actu France.

Normand had expected the decline, however. He told Actu France that the company had taken a survey, which found that almost half (between 40 and 50 percent) of their clientele did not have a passport.