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Rishi Sunak is seeking to capitalise on his improved relations with the EU with hopes of an agreement to allow British passport holders to use e-gates when travelling in the bloc.

Bloomberg News reported on Tuesday that British diplomats had raised the issue informally. A potential discussion was foreseen on the sidelines of a meeting in Japan which the prime minister and the European Commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, will attend in June.

Such a deal would help ease passport queues at airports but do little to speed up border crossing checks at Dover or Folkestone, where travellers have endured long delays to catch ferries.

French police at the Port of Dover and at Eurotunnel in Folkestone will still need to physically check stamps on passports to ensure compliance with post-Brexit limits on the number of days British tourists are eligible to stay in EU countries on the continent.

Eurotunnel and the ports have been more concerned, however, about the introduction of new rules in Europe which will require facial scanning of passport holders, already used in many airports.

They fear this will cause chronic queueing on roads in Kent, as it will require drivers and each passenger to get out of their car to be scanned.

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Most of the car-based traffic is controlled manually, with only a handful of e-gates available in coach halls and no room to expand, a source at Eurotunnel said.

Under EU plans due to be implemented in 2024, citizens from the UK and other “third-country” nationals could have their biometric data taken to obtain a visa waiver, but the British government is worried this will not end delays, and is looking for full access to the bloc’s e-gates, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

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The EU plans to introduce two separate but related entry systems later this year and in 2024.

The EU’s Entry/Exit System (EES) is due to be introduced at the end of this year and will involve automatic registration of visitors from non-EU countries each time they cross a border.

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The biggest concern is the enrolment of EES, where customers’ biometrics – including face and fingerprint scans – and biographical details including name, address, reason for travel and accommodation plans are captured at the first point of entry, either at an airport or at the French police portals at Dover and Folkestone.

“The issues are around the technology proposed by the EU and the roles for carriers and border officers,” said a source at Eurotunnel.

“E-gates could be useful, but only once someone is enrolled and, even so, in one vehicle you could have a mixture of nationalities and statuses, so some might still need to be controlled by a border officer.”

The European Commission has said it is looking at introducing the system in a gradual and flexible way to avoid long waiting times at certain border crossings.

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A second entry system, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) is scheduled to be launched in November 2023 for all countries with the exception of Ireland.

This centres on a new travel authorisation system similar to that required for entry to the US. Once travellers are registered, authorisation will last for three years. It is expected to ease congestion at pinch points such as Dover, as physical checks of passport stamps would be made redundant.

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British passport holders with post-Brexit rights to reside in the EU would be exempt from the ETIAS requirement.

The UK government is also introducing a similar system for non-UK travellers to the UK, the Electronic Travel Authorisation, which it will begin to roll out this year.

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Downing Street has been approached for comment.

( Source: Theguardian)

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