New EU border control system could cause ‘significant disruption’

Cars queue at the check-in at the Port of Dover in Kent

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Brexit and less capacity on the south of England’s roads were some of the things to blame for the long queues at Dover last summer. Next year, Britons could face stand still traffic again as the EU’s new border control system comes into place. The new system is expected to start working from May 2023, thus affecting summer holidays.

The EU’s new “Entry-Exit System” (EES) will require any Briton who wants to travel to the EU to apply for a travel authorisation document that will allow them into the bloc for three years.

Every time they seek to enter the EU they will be expected to show a facial image and provide four fingerprints from which only children aged under 12 will be exempt.

The system will be in place at any EU port, airport, or border checkpoint for any non-EU travellers. But it is likely to impact Dover, as well as the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras, London, more than anywhere else.

The new technology is due to go live in May next year after being delayed for a year because of technical issues. 

Doug Bannister, the Port of Dover’s chief executive, said the new system could cause “significant and continued disruption for a very long time”.

Speaking to the Commons transport committee yesterday, October 12, Mr Bannister revealed: “It’s going to have a higher impact on families wishing to go abroad next summer.”

He told MPs “we haven’t seen what the process is”, but expressed concerns that the time it takes to process a car could rise from around 90 seconds to 10 minutes.

The boss continued: “We’ve heard that there could be some technology that is sort of an iPad with handholds to register the fingerprints. But we haven’t trialled it. How do you pass that around a car? What happens if you’ve got a child asleep in the backseat?

“What if it’s a dark stormy night and the lighting is inappropriate? We haven’t tested all of that.”

He added: “We need to know what the rules of the game are. We need to see what the technology is going to be, we need a sufficient amount of time to trial, test and train to use that technology before implementation.”

The first trials of the technology are due to begin this month in Calais and Mr Bannister has been invited to view them, although he said the port had not yet been given any details of the scheme’s rules.

Asked by MPs what passengers will need to do, Mr Bannister responded: “I know activity is ongoing but, as I sit in front of the panel today, we don’t have that answer.”

The rules state that all adults and teenagers will have to provide not only biometric data of facial image and fingerprints, but also personal data including first name and surname, date of birth, nationality, and sex.

A travel document and the three-letter code of the issuing country of the document will also be needed. 

A travel industry source said: “Implementation hasn’t gone smoothly. It was supposed to start around now but they have had to postpone as a number of countries were not ready.

“The back office IT hasn’t been put in place yet so it can work.”

The new system is similar to the US’ electronic ESTA system where visitors to the country have to provide personal data that is checked against criminal records and other databases before approval is granted.

A similar system of US-style criminal checks is due to be introduced next year by the UK where all overseas visitors, including those from EU countries, will have to apply for permission to enter the UK before starting their journey.

Port and aiport queues have decreased since the end of the summer holidays, but holidaymakers looking to go abroad for some summer sun continue to be warned about Covid rules.

Spain is currently the only EU country with Covid restrictions still in place for British tourists. Britons travelling to Spain will still be asked to provide proof of full vaccination, recovery from Covid, a negative antigen test result, or a negative PCR test.

Antigen tests must be taken within 24 hours of travel while PCR tests will need to be taken 72 hours before departure.

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