Fears that the introduction of facial recognition and fingerprinting checks at Dover could disrupt travel to the summer Olympics in Paris next year have led to the EU delaying its implementation.
This move will be discussed in June by the EU. It would bring relief to transport and coach operators, who faced delays of up 14 hours trying to get to Calais at Easter. They also feared “pandemonium”, if fingerprinting was added to passport checks in Dover, Eurotunnel at Folkestone, and at the Eurostar Terminal in London.
Doug Bannister said that a repeat of or an escalation of congestion during Easter would be unacceptable.
After Brexit border police must “wet stamp passports” and verify that passengers are not overstaying.
At Easter, it took up to an hour for coaches to be processed.
Anthony Marett is the chair of UKCOA. He said, “Easter has been a perfect storm.” Coach travel was returning to a level not seen since before the pandemic. All the coaches were descending at once on a single infrastructure. It was chaos. He said: “If there are further delays caused by the checks, it will be a serious incident.”
The EU plans to introduce a new entry-exit system (EES), which will be implemented in November. Passengers would need to consent to having their fingerprints and facial images captured the first time they arrive on the continent. John Keefe said that the data collected, which includes any refusals to enter, will allow for a faster processing.
Eurotunnel & Dover have no space to expand and create zones for first-time EES registration.
“We are in favor of the move to electronic border posts, where data can be exchanged electronically and more information is shared before the border is opened. This is all to speed up the process. Keefe said that the problem is with the enrollment process.
The facial recognition technology that the EU proposes to use for checks after enrollment is a problem, he said. He said there was no guarantee that the scanners will work through tinted glasses, which are often found in rear-seat passenger window. In the event that they do not work, passengers will have to exit their vehicles, increasing safety concerns.
Keefe also expressed concern about mixed carloads. EU passport holders would not be subjected to the checks, but they would still be denied access to fast-track lanes if travelling with friends or family who hold British passports.
Bannister confirmed that the port has a good relationship with France and that there have been suggestions to move the fingerprinting centre to a place like Sevington, Kent.
The Department for Transport has confirmed that the EU will have to amend its regulations in order to allow fingerprinting to be done off-site.
The lack of clarity about what data is captured at the UK exit point and how much could be uploaded home complicates the issue.
Bannister explained that “our modelling is all over the map, because with just a few small changes in variables it can go from manageable to unacceptable.” “Manageable” means peak times with queues between 45 and 90 minute. “I’d say it’s unacceptable if we get to that level of processing, where there are delays of 12 or 14.
Nichola Mallon is the head of Trade at Logistics UK. She said that the knock-on effects on the trade were a concern. Coach queues would stop trucks from boarding, and supermarket deliveries could be missed. “Our members are hoping that the introduction of the new system is delayed,” said she.
A spokesperson for the government said that it recently met with coach operators to discuss implementation of the new EU entry-exit system checks and is “working closely” with port authorities and France’s government to ensure passengers don’t experience unnecessary delays.
Bannister and Keefe stated that relations with French counterparts are good following Rishi Sunak’s March meeting with Emmanuel Macron, where the prime minister had praised “unprecedented collaboration” with France.
Sources say the EU is “not going to happen” despite its claims that it will introduce the new system in November 2023.
Sources at the meetings said that the only question was whether the enrolment would be delayed until the spring of 2024 or until the summer Olympics in Paris. We are waiting for confirmation at the EU meeting scheduled for 9 June that this will be pushed back until 2024.