Post-Brexit Channel border delays could multiply from next May, with a five-person vehicle being held for up to 10 minutes if the EU goes ahead with a planned biometric entry system, the Port of Dover has said.
The entry-exit system (EES), which is due to start in May 2023, will require all non-EU nationals to register their fingerprints and be photographed before entering the bloc.
Doug Bannister, the chief executive of the Port of Dover, Britain’s main point of entry to Europe, said the additional requirements were likely to add up to 10 minutes for a family of five in a vehicle on their first trip after EES is introduced, compared with about 45 to 90 seconds for border checks today.
Bannister said the EU’s proposed system, which will apply at all border crossings around the bloc, could be implemented relatively easily at airports, as passengers already queued individually for passport control and, in some countries, biometric checks. But he said so far the port had received “no technical detail – none, zero, zip – for a ferry terminal that processes carloads of passengers on a dark stormy night”.
As currently designed, the scheme will require initial biometric registration to be done at the border, under the supervision of EU border police. Bannister said this part of the process would be the most time-consuming, making the implementation of EES a “threat to national trade resilience, regional traffic management and local air quality”.
While discussions were continuing, Bannister said Dover did not have a current solution.
Port capacity relies on the swift throughput of traffic, and the cumulative border delays could lead to long tailbacks on motorways approaching Dover.
Logistics UK has previously warned of huge queues – or the need for new, costly mitigation measures – if lorry drivers are required to leave their cabs for the biometric checks.
There are hopes that the EU may delay the scheme, after postponing the introduction of the parallel European Travel Information and Authorisation System (Etias) from next May until November 2023. The system, similar to the Esta requirement in the US, will mean UK holidaymakers and other non-EU nationals will have to pay €7 for a three-year permit to enter.
Earlier this week, the chief executive of Eurostar told the Commons transport select committee in a letter that existing post-Brexit checks, including the stamping of UK passports, had reduced capacity at the border by 30%. Jacques Damas said problems were not abating and that for the cross-Channel train service, the “uncertainty … hangs over us”.
• This article was amended on 29 September 2022 to correct the validity period of a European Travel Information and Authorisation System permit. In the original we said two years rather than three years.