Is Brexit to blame for UK-France travel delays and will this affect every holiday?

Once again the beginning of a busy holiday period has seen long queues in the UK as British visitors attempt to travel to France - so what is causing this and is there any prospect of things getting better?

Is Brexit to blame for UK-France travel delays and will this affect every holiday?
Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP

The past few days have once again seen long queues in the UK port of Dover, with reports of coach parties waiting up to 16 hours for a crossing, and queues of cars reported on Thursday ahead of the Easter weekend.

This comes after passengers reported 12-hour waits in Dover over the summer – so is this simply the new reality of travel from the UK to France? And is Brexit to blame?


The most recent travel chaos happened at the start of the Easter holidays.

It began last week when the UK school holidays started and initially mostly affected coach parties travelling from Dover – the Easter break is a popular time for UK school trips to Europe – with groups reporting waits at the ferry port of up to 16 hours, while some schools simply cancelled their trips altogether.

Long queues also began to build on Thursday at the port, ahead of the four-day Easter weekend which is also a popular travel time to France.  

Passengers travelling by Eurotunnel, Eurostar and by air saw fewer problems, with the exception of some flights cancelled because of the French air traffic controllers’ strike.

So what caused the delays?

As seems to be an enduring pattern – it depends on who you ask. 

The port of Dover said that it was a combination of a peak travel period with higher than expected volumes of coach parties combined with “the lengthier border checking process that coach parties must now undertake” while Dover’s Conservative MP blamed the French.

The Port of Dover CEO then gave an interview to UK newspaper The Independent in which he singled out French border police for being “very, very helpful” in assisting in clearing the queues, and explained that passport checks simply take more time since Brexit.


So what is the “lengthier border checking process” that the Port of Dover refers to? This refers to the fact that the border between France and the UK is now an external border of the EU.

Because of the nature of the Brexit deal requested by the UK, all UK citizens entering the EU must now have their passports checked and – if applicable – stamped by French border control agents, a process that takes significantly longer than the pre-Brexit checking process.

Bannister has previously estimated that the new checks mean that it takes 90 seconds for a family of four in a car to pass through French immigration. Previously, the encounter would last just a few seconds.

While that doesn’t sound like a lot, once you multiply it by the tens of thousands of passengers who pass through busy crossing points like the Port of Dover, it can add hours onto crossing times.

It is a particular problem for coaches, when passports for every passenger have to be checked and stamped – scaling up to a 53-seat coach, the time taken represents 20 minutes per vehicle, estimates UK travel journalist Simon Calder.

So is this just a feature of UK travel now?

While problems at Dover are becoming regular, it’s not true to say that there are always problems or even always problems at peak times – the Christmas getaway passed largely without incident.

However, the post-Brexit checking processes undoubtedly takes more time and adds stress onto the system – this combined with a peak travel time and any extra factors such as bad weather or staff shortages can therefore quickly escalate into extremely long waits.

Port authorities over the Easter weekend declared a major incident and ferry companies put on extra sailings before service was able to return to normal.

The British Brexit-supporting MP John Redwood, on the other hand, suggested that people abandon the idea of a holiday in France.

Is it worse at Dover?

Due to the Le Touquet agreement, French border force agents work in the UK ports of Dover and Folkestone and the Eurostar terminal of St Pancras (while British agents work in French ports and Gare du Nord). It is this, combined with the huge volume of traffic between France and the UK, that is the reason behind post-Brexit travel delays being seen largely in British ports.

READ ALSO What is the Le Touquet treaty?

Eurostar staff at London St Pancras face the same issues, but because of limited processing space at the terminal, Eurostar bosses have opted to reduce services between the UK and France. This means that passengers don’t face the same type of queues – but the flip side of this is fewer services and higher prices.

The port of Calais faces the same passport control as Dover, but generally sees fewer problems – this is largely due to the fact that the French government spent €44 million updating the infrastructure of its ports in order to prepare for Brexit. 

Will this ever get better?

There might be a glimmer of hope for school trips, as French president Emmanuel Macron and UK prime minister Rishi Sunak announced a ‘simplified’ process for school trips after their summit in March, which could help solve the specific problem that coach parties were having over Easter.

The UK’s former ambassador to France told The Local that this announcement likely relates to reinstating a system similar to the collective travel document – which would mean only once document would be needed for each coach trip. Full details are, however, yet to be announced and the system is not yet in place.

Beyond this, there isn’t much chance of things changing and things might in fact get worse.

This is due to the introduction of the EU’s new EES system which will require enhanced border checks – including biometric data and fingeprinting – something that many travel industry figures have repeatedly warned will make border problems a lot worse.

The start date for the introduction of EES has recently been postponed.

READ ALSO EES and ETIAS: The big changes for travel in Europe

Member comments

  1. One thing only briefly mentioned in the article is overbooking by the ferry companies. They have said “a higher than expected number of coaches” have added to waiting times. Surely they knew how many were expected and should have planned accordingly?

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How French cities are getting people out of their cars

In an effort to get motorists out of their cars for environmental reasons, France and its cities are trying a number of different stick-and-carrot policies, from parking charges based on weight to free public transport. We look at the various schemes around the country

How French cities are getting people out of their cars

Pay by weight

A number of cities in France are watching the roll-out of new car parking rules in the south-eastern city of Lyon in 2024.

Currently, residents in the city pay a flat rate of €20 per month for an on-street parking permit. But the council has decided that, from next year, residential rates will range from €15 to €45, based on the weight of their vehicle.

Under the new rules, owners of an internal combustion car that weighs less than one tonne, or an electric car weighing less than 2.2 tonnes, will pay €15; for an internal combustion car weighing more than 1.725 tonnes, a plug-in hybrid weighing more than 1.9 tonnes or an electric car weighing more than 2.2 tonnes the price will be €45. 

For vehicles in the middle range for weight, the monthly price for permits will be €30.

READ ALSO French city to bring in parking charges based on car weight

Carshare lanes

An online consultation on reserving one lane of Paris’s notoriously congested Périphérique for car-sharing, taxis and buses was due to end on May 28th.

The results of that consultation should shape plans for the 35km ring-road beyond next year’s Olympic Games, when one lane will be reserved for athletes, officials and emergency responders.

Prolonging the scheme beyond 2024 as part of the games’ legacy would aim to “develop more virtuous and economical use of cars,” Belliard said.

Radars are already being tested that could detect whether a vehicle has multiple passengers and is therefore legally in the car sharing lane, he added — while insisting that the project remains “open to discussion”.

READ ALSO Paris weighs car-sharing lane for crucial ring road

Low-emission zones

France’s environment minister announced last year a major extension of ‘low-emission zones’ that will see certain types of vehicle effectively banned from numerous town and city centres by 2025. 

Those vehicles carrying a 4 and 5 Crit’Air sticker are then banned from these low-emission areas (usually the city centre) or limited to certain times. The exact details of the restrictions are up to local authorities, who have the power to extend the limits – for example Paris intends to also ban Crit’Air 3 vehicles by July 2023. Bordeaux plans to follow suit in 2025.

These zones already exist in 11 French cities – Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Aix-Marseille, Nice, Toulon, Toulouse, Montpellier, Strasbourg, Rouen and Reims – but by the end of 2025 they will be compulsory for any town that has more than 150,000 inhabitants. In total this will be around 40 towns and cities. In addition, local authorities in smaller towns can create ZFEs, if they want.

READ ALSO Car bans and €750 fines – how France’s new low-emission zones will work

Car-free zones

From next year, Paris plans to ban cars in an area taking in the first to the fourth arrondissements – the area that makes up much of the historic city centre that runs along the Seine and attracts the most tourists.

The plans were first announced in May 2021 and were set to come into effect in 2022, but have been pushed back to allow more time to implement the changes. 

An exact date for the introduction in 2024 has not been set, but Paris deputy mayor Emmanuel Grégoire said it will start at the beginning of 2024, ahead of the Paris Olympics, which will be held in July and August.

The plans as envisaged by City Hall don’t constitute a complete ban on all vehicles in the city centre, and there are many exceptions – including for people who live in the central zones to use cars, as well as allowances for delivery drivers, the disabled, taxis, VTC vehicles such as Uber, buses and car-sharing.

Bordeaux, meanwhile, extended the pedestrianised area of its city centre last November, to include part of the Chartrons district, increasing the size of the existing pedestrian area by 45 percent. The current car-free zone is some 58 hectares, and the plan is to increase it to 100 hectares in the next few years.

READ ALSO MAP: Where and when will Paris ban cars from the city centre?

Low-speed travel

An increasing number of French cities are cutting speed limits to 30km/h in a bid to encourage motorists out of their cars, save lives and – according to advocates – reduce pollution.

Cities recognise that cutting speed limits does not work in isolation. They go hand-in-hand with other so-called ‘soft transport’ measures to reduce reliance on cars in heavily urban areas.

In Montpellier a €150million 10-year mobility plan aims to cut car use and encourage other means of transport. 

As well as the reduction in speed limit, the plan includes new cycle lanes, new bus lanes, and improvements to the city’s tram services – including a new line set to open by 2025.

In 2019, Lille took a step-by-step approach to its speed limit reduction, adding new areas over a period of months, while also improving infrastructure for cyclists and public transport.

READ ALSO Why more cities across France are imposing 30 km/h speed limits

Cycle lanes

During the pandemic, more people were prompted to take up cycling as a means to escape the virus-spreading confines of public transport. In Paris, the rapidly expanding cycling path network was dubbed “corona-pistes”, as commuters shunned public transport for fear of infection.

Images of Paris as an example of how a city can switch transport focus to cycling are regularly trotted out on social media. But it’s not the only city to do this, as government-backed pro-cycling schemes are proliferating across the country.

READ ALSO How France will splash another €250 million on national ‘bike plan’

Free buses

More than 35 towns and cities across France – including Calais, Dunkirk Libourne, Niort, Aubagne, Gap, and Castres – offer permanent free bus travel on in-town routes. 

The idea is to ease congestion on the roads by increasing the number of journeys made by bus, and to reduce the environmental impact caused by cars.

Others – including Rouen, Nantes and Montpellier – run or have trialled free public transport on certain days, notably weekends.

And some have age-restricted free travel, allowing under-18s to travel without having to pay.

Public policy

It’s not just at a local level that France is trying to break the monopoly of car travel. Those commuting in and out of Paris, as well as tourists looking to enjoy a day at Disneyland, are familiar with the region’s extensive suburban train network (RER). According to French President Emmanuel Macron, it might soon be replicated in other French cities in the coming years.

In the latest in a series of short-videos answering constituents’ “ecological” questions, the President responded to the question “What are you doing to develop rail transport in France, and offer a real alternative to [travelling by] car?” by offering plans to duplicate Paris’ RER system in “the 10 main cities” in France.

Macron said that building suburban train networks in other cities would be “a great goal for ecology, the economy, and quality of life.”

He did not give a timeline, but the Elysée later told Le Figaro that the first step would be for “the orientation council for transport infrastructure” to identify which projects could be “launched first.”

READ ALSO Macron wants new suburban train network in France’s main cities


Since 2022, car adverts have been obliged to carry messages that encourage more eco-friendly forms of transport such as cycling and public transport.

All car adverts now contain one of the following messages:

  • Pour les trajets courts, privilégiez la marche ou le vélo – For short journeys, prioritise walking or cycling
  • Pensez à covoiturer – Think about lift sharing 
  • Au quotidien, prenez les transports en commun – On a day-to-day basis, take public transport 

The messages must be clearly visible or audible, and failure to comply will lead to a €50,000 fine.  They must also mention the hashtag  #SeDéplacerMoinsPolluer – which encourages people to choose less polluting forms of transport. 

Car manufacturers and advertisers will also have to mention which emissions class the advertised vehicle falls into.