Blog: The Guardian view on Brexit and the border: all jammed up – The Guardian

The worst of the chaos of the last few days at the Kent border towns of Dover and Folkestone thankfully appears to be over. But tens of thousands of British tourists have had the start of their holidays seriously disrupted, while HGV drivers waited for up to 18 hours to cross the Channel as sections of the M20 were turned into a lorry park. Huge queues for ferries at Dover eased first, followed by those for the Eurotunnel at Folkestone. But, amid warnings that the problem may recur as soon as this weekend, questions about what caused it need urgent answers.

Ministers including Liz Truss, the foreign secretary who wants to be prime minister, should provide them. It is almost four years since Dominic Raab, then Brexit secretary, said he hadn’t grasped “the full extent” of the UK’s reliance on the Dover-Calais crossing. But more than 18 months since the withdrawal agreement took effect, there has been plenty of time to put in place arrangements to ensure the British port’s smooth running. Because of Covid restrictions on foreign travel last summer, it was widely predicted that the crunch would come after schools broke up this July. Yet the events of the weekend show that, once again, Britain was poorly prepared.

Predictably, Ms Truss and others blamed the French for the situation, and pointed to the lack of staff at passport control booths on Friday as a trigger for the immense traffic jams that built up during the day. But given that Dover’s owners put in a bid for £33m of government funding to help them manage the changed circumstances, and particularly the post-Brexit requirement for passports to be stamped, it is clear that they anticipated issues beyond one-off delays. So far the government has not explained its decision against the upgrade, apart from noting that there were more bids than funds. The obvious conclusion is that warnings were not taken seriously enough by a government determined to minimise negative effects of quitting the EU – and to blame anyone but itself when these become too obvious to ignore.

Kent is not the only departure point where business has not been running smoothly. Airports too have seen cancellations, vast queues and long waits, due to staff shortages after layoffs related to the pandemic – and difficulty filling posts due to low pay and visa rules. Such disruption points to weak planning by both industry and government. (That it unfolded at the same time as plans to allow the aviation industry to expand massively points to an alarming failure of leadership.)

Conservatives habitually mock political opponents for unrealistic pledges, while boasting of their own hard-headedness. But it is the current government that appears addicted to false promises. The myth of Brexit has taken the place of reality, as trade-offs that were the inevitable consequence of leaving the EU are denied in favour of buccaneering fantasies. Having encouraged voters to give up free movement by leaving the EU, politicians now recommend that they blame others for every inconvenience.

Future difficulties with regard to the borders are coming into view. British disabled drivers’ badges may not be accepted in some EU countries, meaning that travellers will face restrictions on where they can go. Roaming charges are being reintroduced for mobile phones, leading to higher bills. Waiting times at borders could get longer with tougher checks that may involve drivers being asked to get out of cars. These were all predictable consequences of Brexit. Practically speaking, none of them ought to be insurmountable. But efficient administration and straightforward communication with the public were never the top priorities of Boris Johnson’s government – and appear unlikely to be those of his successor.

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