By Simon Basketter
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Failures and crises end up with miles of chaos on roads in Kent

A P&O ferry service not running from Dover. Bureaucratic border controls. Tory incompetence and failed IT systems. They’re all factors in a dire mess
Issue 2800
Ten P&O strikers march in Dover behind a banner saying "Boycott P&O"

P&O bosses sacked and replaced their entire crew this year- but still haven’t managed to get their ferries sailing from Dover again (Picture: Socialist Worker)

Chaos hit Kent last week and it’s set to continue. Gridlocked traffic around Dover, the suspension of P&O services, bad weather, failed IT systems and the Tories’ implantation of plans to leave the European Union (EU) all added to the mess.

This is not just Easter travel chaos—it is worse than that and more important.  Around £120 billion worth of goods comes through Dover each year—or 17 percent of the total coming into Britain. On the M20, columns of HGVs stood motionless. More than 4,500 were stuck in a place that usually has capacity for 2,000 trucks. At the end of the queue three P&O ferries sit idle in the Port of Dover after bosses sacked the old crew.

The ships normally take up to 1,200 lorries across the Channel from Dover each day. It is unclear when they will actually start the P&O ferry service again. Last weekend, the Port of Dover had 30,000 customers—a three‑fold increase on the year before, when traffic was down during Covid. Rising demand is being serviced by fewer ferries—just 28 sailings a day, down from 50. And Easter holiday traffic will boost that further.

Rival operators such as DFDS and Irish Ferries have been taking up P&O’s work. DFDS was packing hundreds of lorries into its ships in 40 minutes to speed up turnaround times, but last week one of its vessels hit a harbour wall. It is no longer taking P&O customers.

The government has implemented its Operation Brock. The system was originally ­developed for use in a “no-deal Brexit”. It supplements the normal chaos management system—Operation Stack—which holds lorries on the M20 motorway near Dover.

Operation Brock was introduced to “improve Kent’s resilience”. What it actually does is add more complexity to where things are parked and when they can move. So in the hope of avoiding delays around Dover, lorries are taking smaller roads rather than the motorway—adding to the problems. On Thursday last week, one hit a railway bridge on a side street. There have been a number of collisions.

A new British IT system, which processes all EU exports into Britain, has repeatedly seen drivers unable to get their reference codes accepted. That system crashed at the end of March, was down for a week, and has yet to be fully fixed

Since January firms have also had to complete complex new declarations for customs and “rules of origins” forms.  The government is due to bring in more import controls in July after delaying them twice. The combination of ruthless profit hungry bosses and the Tories mean the mess at the ports isn’t likely to end soon.

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