The Port of Dover is taking legal action to overturn an “irrational” government decision not to fund a £33.5m project to build more passport check points it says are needed to handle post-Brexit immigration controls.
The UK Canal Port, which handles more EU freight shipments than all other UK ports combined, has been given the right to seek judicial review of the Cabinet Office Last December decision Not giving funds to the project would double the ability to check passports.
Last September, Dover applied for a grant from the Port Infrastructure Fund worth £200m, but was turned down after the fund attracted applications worth more than £450m.
Seeking permission to overturn the decision in the courts, Dover’s lawyers said the government had “acted in an irrational manner” and “inconsistent with published standards” of the Port Infrastructure Fund, as well as acting “unfairly from a procedural point of view.”
UK government lawyers asked the court to reject Dover’s application, arguing that the government had “broad discretion” in deciding which applications should be accepted and that Dover’s application did not meet the full requirements of the fund’s evaluation form.
However, a Supreme Court judge ruled that Dover raised issues that were “clearly debatable” in court and granted permission to hear the case. Dover seeks to overturn the original government decision and reconsider their application.
The case raises the possibility of major disruptions to travel and cross-channel commerce when passenger numbers rise after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. French border police have told the port that passengers and truck drivers will face “100% immigration checks” after Brexit.
As a result of leaving the EU, UK passport holders can now only spend 90 days in any 180-day period in the EU without a visa, requiring passports to receive a dated entry stamp, which increases the time required for checks.
Dover said in his court filing that the British Border Force warned the new checks could reduce the “flow rate” through the corridors of Dover passports to “50 people per hour, per lane” – about a tenth of the 500 pre-Brexit flows. per hour, per lane.
Dover currently only has five passport lanes and on a busy weekend you can expect up to 20,000 passenger cars a day.
Under special arrangements known as “contiguous controls” designed to speed up travel through the Channel crossing, French border and immigration checks are conducted in Dover so that passengers can disembark non-stop when they reach Calais.
National Audit Office Report last november He estimated that new post-Brexit checks could mean passenger queues for one to two hours after January 1, but warned that in peak periods “queues and delays could become much longer”.
Travel restrictions imposed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic mean that NAO estimates have not been tested. The lack of passenger cars has also helped keep freight traffic going, with trucks currently using four of the five available lanes – compared to just one before Brexit.
Tim Reardon, head of EU exit planning in Dover, said French border police had requested additional kiosks and that the UK government, under the “contiguous controls” agreement, was obligated to provide them.
This project is essential to keep freight and passenger traffic flowing Now, full immigration controls are required after Brexit. As the host country for the French police, the UK government has a legal obligation to provide the resources it needs.”
Downing Street said it would not comment on legal action, but added that the government “strongly” opposes the Port of Dover’s claim.
Additional reporting by Jane Croft