The BBC reports that travellers face chaos during this year’s PEAK school holiday travel season should airlines be forced to implement new electronic passport checks, MPs have been warned.
Eddie Redfern, of package holiday giant Thomson, said e-borders would cause big delays if they are introduced in the summer season, as ministers want.
Ferry operators and Eurostar chiefs also warned the home affairs committee of big increases in waiting times.
The government said the e-borders scheme was already a proven success. However, travel operators warned it could breach EU laws on data collection.
And they said the flagship £750m programme to collect electronic records of everyone who enters and leaves the UK will also miss Home Office deadlines.
The e-borders programme, which is due to be fully in force by 2014, is aimed at tackling terrorism, crime and illegal immigration and allows passenger details to be checked against watch lists.
But travel operators from the rail, shipping and travel industries told MPs that the Home Office had not consulted them properly and warned that the system could lead to unacceptable delays.
Trials showed taking the data could nearly double check-in times for the 20 million passengers who cross the Channel every year.
Firms also fear that by taking passport data they may breach French and Belgian law which states only law enforcement officials can do so.
Bulk transfer of passenger data could also breach EU data protection rules, he said.
Requiring passengers to provide the information could fall foul of the right to free movement enshrined in EU treaties.
John Powell, managing director of Dover Harbour, warned of “mile-long” queues of lorries.
Marc Noaro, customer services director of Eurostar, said his company was “extremely concerned” that the scheme would cause significant delays – and that extra waiting times could “negate” a 40 minute journey time cut gained by a £6.1bn line upgrade.
Waiting times could double at its rail terminals and cost the company “several millions of investment”, some of which could potentially be passed on to travellers.
UKBA had not responded to a letter about Eurostar’s legal concerns which was sent seven months ago.
He said there were no commercial benefits to the scheme and accused the Home Office of imposing a “one-size-fits-all” programme that was designed to work for airlines.
E-borders could make railway stations overcrowded, double check-in times, and, he said, would be difficult to set up in protected buildings such as St Pancras railway station.
A UK Border Agency spokesperson defended the scheme:
“We have already proven e-Borders is a success, with it running effectively on many routes for four years.
“We have been working with Eurostar and the coach industry for the past two years, and have performed successful trials scanning 96% of documents in seconds.
“We are supporting airlines and carriers to ensure a smooth rollout of the programme that avoids any delays to passengers.
“Counting in and out enables the UK Border Agency to check people before they reach the UK and has already led to over 3,400 arrests for crimes including murder, rape and assault and significant counter terrorist interventions.”
Many other countries, such as Australia, Thailand and the USA, run similar schemes for checking visitors in and out of the country. The Government have been criticized for not knowing how many overstayers and illegal immigrants are in the country, so it fair to complain when they do something about it?
Earlier this year, thousands of protesters braved the bank holiday rain today in London’s Trafalgar Square to call on the Government to regularise the estimated 700,000 illegal immigrants living in the UK.
If we want the Government to ‘secure Britain’s borders’ should we accept that we are going to have to put up with delays and more infringements on our personal liberty?
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