For all those Brexiteers who railed against “freedom of movement”, here was a concrete example of why that wasn’t such a bad thing after all, as coachloads of school children and others travelling to Europe for the Easter break found themselves stranded for almost an entire day without reasonable access to food, water and toilets.
However, to blame it all on Brexit would be to let the UK Government off the hook. Given the referendum took place nearly seven years ago, ministers should have planned for such disruption. Home Secretary Suella Braverman blamed the French for taking too long to check and stamp passports, but this is what all countries are required to do. She also spoke of “acute times”, as if the Easter holiday rush was some kind of unexpected ailment, rather than a perfectly predictable event.
Brexit did not have to be this way. The UK could have remained a member of the European Free Trade Association when it left the European Union. Norway, for example, is an Efta member and, as such, is part of the Schengen Area, with passports not required to visit EU countries.
Hardline Brexiteers are outraged by the suggestion, saying it would force the UK to accept EU rules. However, it would have been a sensible halfway house that prevented much of the damage to the UK economy caused by Brexit and allowed time to consider whether a complete break was wise.
While Efta membership seems unlikely any time soon, the least the UK Government could have done was ensure there were proper facilities for those caught up in the traffic jams. They could also have worked with the French government to increase their border staff at peak times; such cooperation has been evident over Channel crossings by migrant boats with the UK paying France to take greater action to stop them.
So while it is true this is a consequence of Brexit – and one emblematic of all the problems faced by businesses trading with the EU – it has been exacerbated by incompetence and the prioritisation of ideological purity over plain common sense.