British officials are in talks with their French counterparts to avoid a repeat of gridlock at the Channel border as EU checks are set to get tougher.
Ministers have insisted that the scenes of chaos at the Port of Dover during the start of the Easter getaway have now been resolved.
From next year, the EU will introduce a requirement for an electronic permit to enter the bloc which will require border officials to collect biometric data from travellers. A former head of the Border Force warned the new scheme will be a “nightmare” that could see Dover “grind to a halt”.
The British Government is “in discussion with our French counterparts about how we can further improve the flow of traffic”, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said, adding that it expected “an iterative process of mitigating the potential for disruption”.
The spokesman suggested that the French border force was responsible for slowing down the processing of passengers because it stamps the passport of every non-EU citizen. He said: “It is a decision for the French authorities on how they choose to do that, and the wet stamping is not something that we do on our side.”
The ongoing talks with the French are currently being led by civil servants and there is no direct involvement from ministers.
Next year, an EU-wide Entry/Exit System (EES) will be implemented which will require Britons to apply for permission to enter the bloc, pay a small fee and provide biometric data such as fingerprints when they cross the border.
No 10 said: “We are continuing to speak with ports, with ferry operators and others, and obviously the French g]overnment to ensure that the new entry and exit system does not create unnecessary delays for passengers.”
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 the current 90 seconds to 10 minutes.
Tony Smith, a former Border Force head who now chairs the International Border Management and Technologies Association, said this week’s travel misery made it “imperative” that EES was implemented without causing more logjams.
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 stamped, 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.”
Natalie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for Dover, warned that “action is needed now to prepare for the summer peak holiday season” even before EES takes effect. David Frost, the former minister who led Brexit negotiations under Boris Johnson, said ministers should negotiate fewer checks on tourists and consider paying the French to beef up their infrastructure.