Jacob Rees-Mogg has admitted he was wrong in saying there would be no delays at the port of Dover caused by the UK’s departure from the EU.
But the Brexit opportunities minister maintained the government line that the French, not Brexit, had caused the recent delays, in a radio interview on Tuesday.
LBC radio echoed a 2018 claim when it insisted that “checks are not necessary in Dover” and made it clear that “the delays will not be in Dover, but in Calais”.
Rees-Mogg blamed Paris for the “France-caused delays” testified recently before being asked if he would apologize for doing it wrong.
“Yes, of course I’m wrong, but I’m wrong for the right reason, if I may say so,” he said.
“The point I made was that the only delays would be caused by the French if they decided not to let British people pass freely. They have decided to do that.”
Rees-Mogg went on to suggest that Brits might believe that “going to Portugal is more fun because the Portuguese want us to go and the French are hard”.
“Why should we spend our hard-earned money in France if the French don’t want us?” he asked, before insisting he wasn’t calling for a boycott.
Authorities in Dover have declared a critical incident as the stalemate meant delays of up to five to six hours and volunteer staff handed out water to bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Both Port of Dover and Eurotunnel, which operates rail and car transport across the Channel, have said the delays were caused by the extra checks required on British passports.
Under the Le Touquet Agreement between France and the UK, French border control personnel are stationed on the British side of the Channel.
Before Brexit, when there was free movement for EU nationals, officials only had to check passports for identity purposes, match the faces of people in cars with their passports and make sure the document was up to date.
Since Brexit, different travel rules apply to all third-country nationals.
British nationals can still travel to the EU visa-free, but only for 90 days in any 180-day period.
That means officials at French border controls must stamp each passport to record entry and exit, and also check the passport for previous stamps to make sure the 90-day limit has not been exceeded.
Port of Dover said two weekends ago that it resulted in checks taking an average of 90 seconds, compared to 48 seconds before Brexit.
Authorities admitted there was also a staff shortage problem on Friday, July 22, but this only lasted about two hours.
Port of Dover had increased the number of passport control booths from six to nine in June in preparation for the weekend of July 22. It was the weekend after schools in England split for the summer holidays, traditionally the busiest days for tourists.
Last weekend, Dover carried 142,000 passengers, a fivefold increase from this time last year. Eurotunnel carried about 100,000 passengers.
The extra passport controls combined with the huge traffic spike resulted in queues of up to six hours before travel times returned to normal on Monday 25 July.
The travel industry warns that delays for travelers could worsen after the EU introduces biometric checks next summer, including facial recognition and fingerprints under the so-called Entry Exit System (EES).