Families catching ferries to France should set off “earlier” than normal when new exit checks come into force next month, the immigration minister has indicated.
James Brokenshire said it was “advisable” for travellers to set off early for their holidays on days when ports are particularly busy.
The advice comes after The Telegraph revealed ferry companies warned the border changes could create queues of more than 650 cars as guards check passports of passengers leaving the country.
The concerns relate to new exit border checks that come into effect on April 8 – the Wednesday after Easter Sunday – and could impact families heading abroad for spring holidays.
For the first time in 20 years every tourist leaving the UK will have their passports checked at ferry points.Should problems hit at the borders over Easter the new checks could become a major election issue, coming into force just a month before the public heads to the polls.
Mr Brokenshire played down concerns, saying he did not recognise the “extreme” stories about how the changes could impact travellers and insisted there were contingency plans ready.
However the Tory immigration and security minister also appeared to call on families to leave earlier than normal to make the trip to the Continent when the new checks come into place.
Asked on BBC Radio Four’s Today Programme if he advised people to leave earlier than normal for their holidays, Mr Brokenshire said: “Well, obviously we want people to set out in good time.”
Pushed again on whether families should “set out earlier” than normal, he added: “On busy days, I think it’s advisable for anyone to set out earlier to ensure that they‘re at their port of departure on time.”
The suggestion that families should build in extra contingency time for ferry trips over Easter will do little to allay fears that the changes could cause major delays at the border. The checks will double the amount of time it takes to check a car with a family of four, prompting concerns that queues will build up out of ferry ports, blocking major roads. The problems are likely to be particularly acute at Dover which handles 60 per cent of Britain’s ferry traffic with the Continent, with 50 sailings a day.
Ferry companies have told the Home Office that family vehicles will be have to join the queues of lorries on the A20 and M20, raising concerns about the safety of families in the cars. According to a letter from the UK Chamber of Shipping to MPs on the Home Affairs Committee, the trials found “significant queues (of 650+ cars) will form on days when overall car numbers exceed 7,500.
Mr Brokenshire said the government had been working with ferry companies and Eurotunnel for the last 18 months and stressed that the checks were little different to those already carried out by airlines.
He said he was confident an “effective process” would be put in place and said there are “contingencies” in place for if problems do occur.
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