Photograph: Tommy London/Alamy
Rishi Sunak is trying to capitalize on his improved relationship with the EU with hopes of a deal to allow British passport holders to use electronic gates when traveling in the bloc.
Bloomberg News reported on Tuesday that British diplomats had raised the issue informally. A potential discussion was expected on the sidelines of a meeting in Japan attended by the prime minister and the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in June.
Such a deal would help ease passport queues at airports, but would do little to speed up checks at border crossings at Dover or Folkestone, where travelers have endured long delays catching ferries.
French police at the port of Dover and the Eurotunnel in Folkestone will still need to physically check passport stamps to ensure they meet post-Brexit limits on the number of days British tourists can stay in EU countries on the continent.
Eurotunnel and the ports were more concerned, however, about the introduction of new rules in Europe that will require facial scanning of passport holders, already used in many airports.
They fear this will cause chronic queues on Kentish roads, as it will require drivers and each passenger to step out of their car to be scanned.
Most car traffic is controlled manually, with only a handful of electronic doors available in the carriage halls and no room to expand, a Eurotunnel source said.
Under EU plans due to be implemented in 2024, UK nationals and other ‘third country’ nationals could have their biometric data taken to obtain visa waiver, but the UK government is concerned that this it will not end the delays and is seeking full access to the bloc’s electronic gates, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
The EU plans to introduce two separate but related entry systems later this year and in 2024.
The EU’s Entry/Exit System (EES) is due to be introduced later this year and will result in the automatic registration of visitors from third countries every time they cross a border.
Of greater concern is EES registration, where customer biometrics, including facial and fingerprint scans, and biographical details including name, address, travel reason and accommodation plans are captured at the first point of entrance, at an airport or at the French Police Portals at Dover and Folkestone.
“The issues relate to the EU’s proposed technology and the roles for carriers and border officers,” a Eurotunnel source said.
“E-gates might be useful, but only once someone is signed up and, even so, in a vehicle you may have a mix of nationalities and statuses, so some may still need to be checked by a border officer.”
The European Commission said it was trying to introduce the system in a gradual and flexible way to avoid long waiting times at some border crossings.
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A second entry system, the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), is due to launch in November 2023 for all countries except Ireland.
This is centered around a new travel authorization system similar to that required for entry into the United States. Once travelers are registered, the authorization will last for three years. It is expected to ease congestion at hotspots such as Dover, as physical checks of passport stamps would be rendered redundant.
UK passport holders with post-Brexit rights to reside in the EU would be exempt from the ETIAS requirement.
The UK government is also introducing a similar system for non-UK travelers to the UK, Electronic Travel Authorization, which will start rolling out this year.
Downing Street has been contacted for comment.