To ask His Majesty’s Government, further to the decision by the European Commission to delay the introduction of the Entry/Exit System (EES) and European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) until the end of 2023, what steps they intend to take to facilitate a smooth transition for travellers from the United Kingdom wishing to enter the European Union under the revised passenger requirements.
The Government are engaging both the European Commission and the French Government through officials holding routine technical meetings to understand and influence the implementation plans of the new system. This includes working with port owners and operators to understand and support their plans, in order to mitigate the impacts from EES and ETIAS at the border. However, ultimately it is for EU member states to implement the new system.
My Lords, the Minister’s final words were the ones used by the previous Home Secretary when appearing before your Lordships’ Justice and Home Affairs Committee. However, three weeks ago, in a Question about overcrowding and difficulties at the border, the Minister then said:
“our own electronic travel authorisation scheme … will accelerate the rate at which people can cross the border.” [
What is the electronic scheme that was referred to three weeks ago, and would it not be sensible to have a scheme like the US ESTA scheme whereby people can have their fingerprints and documentation taken before travelling, rather than being held up at the border?
I find myself in the odd position of agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. Let me explain. The European Union has chosen to implement something called the European Entry/Exit System. This replaces passport stamping and requires non-EU nationals entering and exiting the Schengen area to provide a digital photograph and fingerprints on entry and exit. That is different from the electronic travel authorisation that the UK will be implementing in due course; that requires only a digital photograph. That is what will accelerate the rate at which people pass through passport controls into the UK, over which we have control. We have, sadly, no control over passport controls into the EU, and the EES will apply in that sphere.
My Lords, can the Minister explain why, when British people travel abroad, they are put in a queue with all the non-EU people but when they come home to Heathrow and elsewhere, Europeans and the British are in the same queue? Why are the Europeans not separate, and can that not be used as some sort of leverage?
I understand that the United Kingdom has always taken the view that the Europeans are our friends and we treat them in the same way we always did. That, sadly, has not been the approach adopted by some of our European and EEA colleagues.
My Lords, in his first Answer the Minister referred to working with port operators, but of course, the Channel Tunnel also deals with 10 million passengers a year and is a conduit for £140 billion of UK-EU trade. The operators of the Channel Tunnel calculate that 85% of their customers will have to pre-register and be subject to the necessary border controls. This is obviously a huge task, so can the noble Lord give us some details of his Government’s discussions with the EU? Are there any plans for a phased introduction, and to try to defer this whole huge change until after the Paris Olympics?
If I may, I will address the question in relation to the European Entry/Exit System. That is a separate procedure from the European Travel Information and Authorisation System; it is the ETIAS which will require people to log their intended visit online and to record some biological data. The European Commission intends that it will be implemented some six months after the operationalisation of the European Entry/Exit System, which is the photograph and fingerprints at the border system I discussed a moment ago. As the noble Baroness rightly observes, the Paris Olympics fall in June next year. On the latest indications from the European Commission, the implementation date has been postponed from the end of 2023 to an uncertain date. It may be that that date will be after the Paris Olympics, but we have no indication one way or the other.
Clearly, the European Union and the Schengen area have set up their own system. It does not incorporate all members of the European Union; for example, the Republic of Ireland is not participating in EES or ETIAS. It makes sense for the UK, as a sovereign country, to have its own entry and exit system, as the United States does.
My Lords, the Minister has just said the system, whenever it is sorted out, will not now be delivered until after the 2024 Paris Olympics, which is over two years after it was supposed to be introduced. He will know that Eurostar is already saying there are real problems at St Pancras, Folkestone and Dover, and you only have to travel to know there are problems. What are the Government going to do to work with colleagues across Europe to try and sort this out before summer 2024?
My Lords, it is for the European Commission to decide when it implements its system. Our system will be ready probably before then, and implementation of the ETA is well advanced. But obviously, it is in everyone’s interest to work closely, and I am pleased to report that we have been very much doing so. Technical meetings are happening today between the United Kingdom and France regarding ongoing co-operation on questions of border control. Clearly, if we can reduce any impact, that assists both the UK and the EU member states.
My Lords, I am pleased that I have still got a maroon passport, a European passport, whereas my good friend, my noble friend Lord Watson, has got one of these, a blue passport, which I understand is printed and produced overseas. Why can we not produce our own passports any more?
I will not castigate the noble Lord for using an exhibit in the Chamber, but perhaps I can say this. We are delighted that passport covers—which are indeed, as I understand it—presently made in Europe, are obtained through a competitive tendering process. We use taxpayers’ money sensibly on this side of the House.