Britons travelling to France are being warned to expect huge delays at ferry ports and the Channel Tunnel when the EU tightens entry rules next year.
Brussels is preparing to roll out its long-awaited Entry/Exit System (EES) which will require all non-EU arrivals to have four fingerprints scanned and a photograph taken.
Such information is relatively simple to collect in an airport where passengers are on foot and pass through immigration individually.
“In our context, virtually everybody crosses the border in a vehicle and in a group,” said Tim Reardon, head of EU exit for the Dover Harbour Board.
“There is no such thing as an e-gate for a car, and there is no such thing as an e-gate process for people travelling as a group. They’re all one-at-a-time processes.”
The EES is due to launch in May. By the end of next year the EU will also have rolled out the European Travel Information and Authorisation System which will require Britons to apply for an Etias before departure. It will cost €7.
Transport bosses told the House of Lords justice and home affairs committee that the EES system had been designed for airlines rather than for terrestrial operators.
Reardon said: “There is no way of doing a biometric control without getting everyone out of the vehicle.
“That’s the one thing on our site which cannot happen because you’re in the middle of live traffic. It would be equivalent to asking people to get out of their car at a motorway toll booth. It’s fundamentally unsafe and it can’t happen.”
There are fears the time taken to carry out the measures will cause traffic chaos on roads leading to ports and the tunnel terminus. French immigration is carried out on this side of the Channel.
John Keefe, director of public affairs for Getlink — which operates the Eurotunnel between Folkestone and Calais – said: “Any disruption to the French inbound control has an immediate knock-on effect on traffic in minutes.”
Pre-Covid the tunnel carried 11 million passengers a year, the majority of whom travel in the peak school holiday periods. Keefe said that on a peak summer’s day the Eurotunnel handles 600 cars an hour, carrying approximately 2,400-2,500 passengers.
He told peers: “We would be looking at 1,600 to 1,700 passengers per hour to be processed for the first time. That’s an impossible task in the space that we have available.
“The risk of congestion is to our motorways, to the M20, the A20 and A2. Once all of those areas are congested, Kent becomes impassable.”
Keefe warned that while professional HGV drivers obey Operation Stack — a procedure, deployed at times of disruption, that uses parts of the M20 to queue lorries travelling towards the continent, to avoid causing gridlock across Kent’s roads — recreational drivers would not.
“Managing passenger vehicles, individual consumers, when they have an imperative, ‘We must get there’, is a completely different kettle of fish.
“They disobey rules quite happily, and will leave the motorway and will look for alternative routes which they’ll then congest, and we’ll very quickly have a very widespread issue in Kent.”
Eurostar, which operates passenger services from St Pancras International to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, also warned of issues because of an “extreme space challenge” in London.
“This is coming at us fast, in a very underdeveloped way,” said Gareth Williams, the operator’s strategy director. “We don’t currently see a practical solution. If we take the peak of August, up to 80 per cent of people will have to go through the system.
“In a peak hour in August we have 1,800 passengers. About 1,500 of those would be required to go through the EES, of whom 830 would be first-time travellers.”
Williams said the station would need more than 30 kiosks and an additional area equivalent in size to the entire current check-in zone.