Apparently Rishi Sunak wants to make it easier for Britons to travel to Europe. There are no “live” discussions on the issue, according to No 10, but the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “Of course we will always want to find ways to minimize unnecessary waiting times for Britons,” adding that ” wider use The introduction of electronic gates for non-EU citizens would be welcome.
Given the very real problems leaving the EU has caused for travellers, this all seems incredibly ambiguous. If Sunak is truly to make things better, he needs to engage much more directly with Europe and address some of the more glaring failures and implications of the Brexit deal on this issue. Here are five things he needs to negotiate to restore sanity to the situation.
Use of e-gates
Since it was raised by the prime minister’s spokesman, let’s start with this. There are currently significant inconsistencies with how different EU countries and even different airports within those countries treat arriving UK citizens. In Amsterdam or Geneva, for example, you have to stand in a long line to be interviewed individually at passport control.
In St Pancras (for France) and Bergamo you can use e-gates – which are perfectly capable of reading and checking a UK passport – and then your passport is quickly and automatically stamped before you travel to departures or collection luggage. Certainly – in the short term – we could have more consistency here.
Better frontier facilities
In the longer term, however, that will change, probably at the end of next year when the EU’s new Automated Entry System (EES) and travel pre-authorisation requirements (ETIAS) come into effect – full details here.
But if all of this is going to work out smoothly, we need practical solutions to avoid major delays at ports, especially Dover, and to address space constraints at St Pancras. These are two of the most important entry and exit points for many of us. And we have already seen the chaos that ensues when things go wrong with border control.
End of 90 day limit
For some reason, when the government negotiated Brexit, it agreed to a 90-day limit on the number of days British citizens could stay in the EU in any six-month period. Meanwhile, he has agreed that EU citizens can come here for up to six months at a time. This needs rebalancing: 90 days is not enough, especially for the younger generation, and it is surely wrong for the agreements to be so lopsided.
Review the passport validity rules
Before leaving the EU, you could travel as long as your British passport was valid until the day you planned to leave. It must now have three months of validity beyond that date. Also, the extra months sometimes added to the ten-year validity of a British passport are not recognized by the EU.
So don’t get confused by the expiration date on your document – it’s the issue date that matters. Confused? Many have been. Let’s get rid of this arbitrary bureaucratic rule.
Sort the passport office delays
None of these reforms are of any help if you have an expired passport and can’t renew it without weeks of waiting. The turnaround time to renew our old EU/UK burgundy passport was only two to three weeks in 2019.
Now if you want a new dark blue version you have to allow up to 10 and the threatened attacks on the passport office look set to extend that. If not resolved soon, a significant number of people could miss out on their overseas holidays this year.