New biometric border controls being introduced for UK citizens due to Brexit could create “huge queues” of travellers, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter
Sadiq Khan has called on the government to prevent potential chaos for passengers using Eurostar, following concerns raised over new EU border checks at St Pancras Station.
The London mayor said ministers could not “wash their hands of” the fact that the new biometric border controls are being introduced for UK citizens due to Brexit, and could create “huge queues” of travellers.
The government said it was in “close contact with the travel industry and port authorities to ensure they are prepared to minimise the risk of delays”.
Earlier this week, HS1, the owner and operator of the line and stations between London and the Channel Tunnel, raised concerns that the currently proposed arrangements for the new EU biometric Entry/Exit System (EES) checks at St Pancras Station are “severely inadequate”. It said this could lead to long delays and potential capping of services and passenger numbers.
The new checks replace the stamping of passports for UK travellers, and instead require passengers to enter personal information and details about their trip, as well as submitting fingerprint and facial biometric data.
In written evidence to MPs on the European scrutiny select committee, HS1 said that the need to register a non-EU passenger is expected to take at least an additional two minutes per passenger if carried out solely at the border – three times longer than the current system takes.
Furthermore, only 24 EES kiosks have been allocated to St Pancras by the French government, despite modelling suggesting that 49 would be needed at peak times.
It has been mooted that the new checks will come into force in October but the implementation has been delayed several times in recent years because the infrastructure was not ready.
HS1 added that space restrictions at the Grade 1-listed St Pancras building would make the EES difficult to implement and that a lack of space would mean the queueing process would be “convoluted and staggered”.
Khan said: “The success of the Eurostar is a vital part of London’s and the UK’s economic success – with St Pancras a gateway for huge numbers of tourists and businesspeople in the country.
“As it stands these new post-Brexit checks will cause chaos at St Pancras, with cuts to services and potentially huge queues facing passengers at peak times. This is directly a result of Brexit, and it’s not an issue ministers can now wash their hands of.”
The checks are being introduced by the EU to improve the security of its Schengen area – which the UK was never part of. However, all EU passport holders, even those from outside the Schengen Area such as Ireland, will be unaffected by the EES checks; officials can check only that they have a valid travel document.
The mayor continued: “With London’s economy roaring back after the pandemic, this sends a terrible signal to both tourists and businesses from around the world.
“Ministers now need to offer HS1 and Eurostar all the support it needs to resolve these issues as a matter of urgency. Cuts to services and longer delays simply isn’t an option.”
A government spokesman said: “The new Entry/Exit System is an EU programme overseen by the European Commission. The UK government is working closely with the EU and member states to minimise any impact at our shared borders with Europe.
“The home secretary recently met with the French interior minister to discuss the introduction of the entry/exit system and we are in close contact with the travel industry and port authorities to ensure they are prepared to minimise the risk of delays.”
The mayor’s critics claimed he was trying to use the issue “to distract from his own failures”.
City Hall Conservatives’ transport spokesman Keith Prince said: “As tube passengers know only too well, the Central Line has been plagued by delays almost every day since Christmas.”
He added that the RMT will soon be taking strike action on the London Overground.
“They’re no doubt hoping the mayor will find millions of pounds for their union members down the back of the City Hall sofa once again,” said Prince.
“Sadiq Khan needs to focus on the problems in his own backyard or make way for someone who will.”
It was revealed in October last year that Eurostar had become able to run virtually full trains from London to the continent for the first time since the pandemic, after overcoming border control issues and staff shortages.
The railway firm said it was now able to sell almost all 890 seats on its 16-carriage trains to Paris, after lifting a self-imposed cap on numbers that at one stage left 250 seats per train vacant.
In January, the company said it carried 18.6 million passengers in 2023 – a rise of 22% on the previous twelve months.