UK passengers queuing at the French border can expect the waiting time to more than double when digital checks for non-EU countries are introduced, according to a new report.
More than 500 “data kiosks” and 250 tablets have been ordered by France to process travellers, including passengers in their cars on ferries, in the hope that queues at airports, stations and ports will be reduced when the EU’s Entry/Exit System begins – and photos and fingerprints of millions of people need to be taken.
After leaving the European Union, UK travellers entering the Schengen area for the first time will need all their data and documents processed.
Though the system will replace the manual stamping of passports, a report by the Cour des Comptes, France’s public finance watchdog, estimated the initial registration of travellers into the system will at least double the queuing time. After passing through the kiosks, travellers will need to show their passports to border officials.
The report suggests that potential disruption could cause more people to travel across the continent by plane.
“Even though the average check time has increased since Brexit for Eurostar, doubling or even tripling waiting time could drive some travellers to opt for a plane,” it states.
Trials have suggested that the new system could add two minutes to each person passing through the border, whether arriving by air or sea.
Paul Charles, the chief executive of travel consultancy the PC Agency, told The Telegraph: “Getting into Europe needs to be more seamless, not more cumbersome.
“The processing of passengers, whether at our ferry ports, at St Pancras or on arrival at a European airport, will have to be much faster otherwise peak periods will become unbearable for those stuck in ever-longer queues.”
Simon Calder, travel correspondent for The Independent, lays the blame solely at the feet of Brexit’s decision makers.
“At the time of the EU referendum, plans for the Entry/Exit System were already underway. After the democratic decision to leave the European Union, the UK government negotiated for British passport holders to become third-country citizens – and for hard EU frontiers at Dover and Folkestone.
“The queues seen since we demanded all British passports must be checked and stamped should not be a surprise for anyone – and when fingerprinting and facial biometrics become mandatory the process will become even tougher.
“I am curious what solutions ministers had in mind when they campaigned for Brexit. But at least the French seem to be taking the potential problems seriously.”
Proposals for smart borders were first suggested by the EU in 2015, and were formally adopted in early 2016 – months before the Brexit referendum. The scheme has been hit with a number of delays, however, and is unlikely to be implemented until 2025.