Looming fingerprint scans on travellers to France will be a “nightmare” that could see Dover “grind to a halt”, a former head of Border Force believes.
Tony Smith, an expert on global border security, believes biometric checks on non-EU travellers carried out as part of the bloc’s Entry/Exit System (EES), due to be introduced in November, may cause more chaos at the port.
It comes as coachloads of travellers endured queues of up to 20 hours to board ferries with fears of further delays during the run-up to Easter weekend as a result of post-Brexit checks on passports by French authorities.
The Port of Dover launched a probe into the chaos, which saw children stranded with no food on buses overnight for hours and school trips cancelled.
Under the EES scheme, anyone arriving from outside the EU, including the UK, must have four fingerprints scanned and a photograph taken.
Port Of Dover chief executive Doug Bannister has warned that rolling out EES would see delays in checking a car of four people increase from 90 seconds currently to 10 minutes.
Mr Smith, chairman of NGO International Border Management and Technologies Association (IBMATA) said this week’s travel misery made it “imperative” that EES was implemented without causing more logjams.
But he questioned if French authorities had sufficiently “embraced new technology” to carry out biometrics checks and whether they could be brought in this year “without making things a whole lot worse”.
He told i: “If the French don’t do something in Dover and come up with some kind of a proposal about how they’re going to capture the biometrics of every traveller, potentially what you’re looking at is instead of just handing your passport through that window for it to be scanned and stamp, you will also have to present yourself in person in front of a French officer who will capture your photograph and your fingerprints.
“It doesn’t bear thinking about if they’re going to do that with the sorts of volumes of traffic that we see on those ferries as a matter of routine, let alone during busy periods. It will literally grind to a halt, I think, unless something is done.
“It will be a nightmare unless somebody comes up with a plan. They have to think outside the box and pretty quickly because otherwise it will get a whole lot worse.”
He called on the British and French governments and port authorities to resolve the issues faced by Dover, a “critical” route for trade and tourism, by improving technologies at the border to help ease the travel misery faced by passengers.
As well as EES, a parallel scheme, the European travel information and authorisation system (ETIAS), will require “visa exempt” travellers such as the British to obtain a permit from next year.
Travel to the UK from ports such as Calais and Dunkirk could also be impacted once the UK brings in its own biometrics scheme, the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA), for European visitors, said Mr Smith.
Similar delays to those experienced by holidaymakers over the weekend were likely over the Summer, he added, with checks becoming more intensive once the new biometrics checks come in.
He said: “I just haven’t seen any real progress. That’s not to say progress isn’t happening, I don’t know because I don’t work for the Government.
“But I would certainly be arguing very, very strongly now, in the wake of this, that they start to think carefully about how they are going to implement ETIAS, EES and ETA on that particular route.
“And what technologies and capabilities might be deployed, both in Dover and in the French ports of Calais and Dunkirk, to maximize opportunities to deliver seamless borders without compromising on security.”
A Eurostar spokesperson said the firm had “raised concerns about the impact of EES” on queuing and processing times at terminals and was engaging with governments about easing its impact on travellers.
Lucy Moreton, an officer at Border Force union ISU, said delays endured by travellers at the weekend were due to extra passport checks being implemented by French authorities at Dover after post-Brexit interim arrangements ended.
British officials at Calais were not carrying out the same checks, meaning similar traffic jams were not experienced at the French port, she said.
Biometrics checks being introduced in November as part of the EU’s Entry/Exit System (EES) would add to delays for travelling, she said, with more delays likely over the summer holidays if an incident causes traffic to cascade.
“If you literally pull up and park outside, everybody’s organised, everyone’s got their passport in their hand, then you’ll be through and back in five minutes or less,” she said.
“But the minute you can’t unstrap a toddler, you can’t take a child through the gates, the chip has failed it becomes exponentially longer. It will be very different to how it was since 1998ish.”
The lack of space at Dover made it difficult for the French to boost the number of border officials they had checking passports, she added.
While the weekend’s queues at Dover were “on one hand, absolutely because of Brexit” she added: “On the other, it’s actually the French approach to Brexit.
“The UK has chosen to not change their approach to European travellers coming into the UK. So we do exactly the same now, as we did when we were part of Europe. That makes it really quick.
“The French have done what the British said that we’re going to do and have taken control of their borders. They see and speak to every single arriving passenger.”