EU rules forcing drivers to leave vehicles for checks threaten ‘continual’ Dover chaos

New EU rules monitoring entry to the bloc’s passport-free Schengen Area would force lorry drivers and tourists to leave their vehicles for ID checks and spark huge queues and traffic chaos, Port of Dover authorities warned on Monday.

The system requires biometric checks and the use of electronic gates rather than the current simpler passport checks that can be carried out on people in their cars or lorries.

Dover will need new infrastructure to handle the border checks, which are carried out on UK territory by French police under a bilateral deal with Paris, port authorities warned the Government.

There is currently no agreed system for how checks could be done on people who are in vehicles, as they currently are for ferries from Dover or the Channel Tunnel.

In a letter to the Government, Kent MPs warned there was a danger of "large scale traffic disruption in Kent … on a continual basis". The disruption would be as bad as if France closed the border, they said, criticising the EU plans as being more suited to airports than seaports.

MPs warned that the disruption would be as bad as if France closed the border

Credit: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

The EU’s entry-exit system, to monitor all non-EU travellers entering the Schengen Area, is due to come into force next April. It will require non-EU citizens to register a digital identification profile at checkpoints and undergo a biometric check.

The Port of Dover, Getlink and the Logistics UK group have called on the Government to open talks with Brussels and Paris on ways to avoid huge queues and smooth out the problems.

The impact of new post-Brexit regulations posed "an imminent and serious threat" to the "well-established frictionless and free flow operations" at Dover, they said, adding: "All effort must be devoted to maintaining these in the national economic interest."

Dover is responsible for one third of all UK trade with the EU, which rises to 59 percent if other routes in the region, such as the Channel Tunnel, are taken into account. The port processes £144 billion of freight every year.

Disruption to supply chains would hit the motor industry, which is dependent on the most seamless supply chains possible, Dover, Getlink and Logistics UK told MPs on Monday. Prolonged disruption could damage the image of "Global Britain" and jeopardise the economic recovery from the Covid pandemic, they warned.

Delays at Dover, which runs ferries to Calais and Dunkirk roughly every 20 minutes, would also have a knock-on effect on EU imports into the UK because it would soak up freight capacity.

The Department of Transport responded to the MPs letter by saying the Government would "work constructively" to "minimise checks" at the border. How the border checks will be implemented in practice will be up to the French authorities, although they will have to take EU law into account.

Relations between the UK and France are strained after disputes over the Aukus security deal and post-Brexit fishing licences. British and EU officials held talks over the fishing permits in Brussels on Monday.

Clement Beaune, France’s Europe minister, urged the EU to back Paris more strongly in the dispute. France had threatened a series of measures, including go-slow customs checks on UK goods at ports, unless the row was resolved. Its deadlines have passed without action from Paris, and negotiations continue.

"We are not there yet but there is still hope," Mr Beaune told an evenmt hosted by the Politico website. "We are not naive. We still have all options on the table including these measures. We would prefer to have it at the EU level. If nothing happens at the EU level, we will take French measures."

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