UK officials fear port chaos unless EU delays biometric plan again

UK government officials are increasingly concerned about potential chaos at ports this October unless the EU postpones its planned biometric travel registration scheme, which mandates facial and fingerprint scans for non-EU nationals.

Set to commence on 6 October, the European entry/exit system will require all non-EU travellers to undergo biometric checks. This new scheme, delayed several times since its inception in 2017, could significantly impact British citizens, highlighting the end of free movement.

One of the major challenges is the readiness of an app developed by the EU and Frontex, designed to streamline the registration process. The app aims to allow non-EU citizens to register their details before travelling, avoiding delays at border crossings.

This new system could also test the UK government’s efforts to foster a more cooperative relationship with the European Commission. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has privately lobbied for UK citizens to have full access to the EU’s e-gates, but this proposal has not gained traction.

The EU views the biometric scheme as a crucial step to combat illegal migration and ensure that non-EU citizens do not overstay their visas. Additionally, it will reduce the need for passport stamps, simplifying the travel process.

Despite these benefits, the scheme’s timing—just three weeks before the October half-term holiday—raises concerns about potential glitches and delays. Travellers will need to undergo fingerprint checks and facial biometrics on their first registration, with subsequent visits requiring only a facial biometric check at automated gates.

UK officials worry that any ensuing chaos at key border points, such as Folkestone and Dover, could result in significant public backlash against the current government rather than Brexit advocates within the Conservative party.

The UK does not oppose the biometric scheme in principle and acknowledges the need for its implementation. However, there is concern that a poorly executed rollout would benefit no one. A recent UK Department for Transport survey found that 69% of the public were unaware of the scheme, with 15% indicating it might reduce their travel frequency.

Getlink, the company operating the Channel tunnel, is already constructing multimillion-pound processing centres at Folkestone and Calais to manage the new requirements. However, the Port of Dover is expected to face the most significant challenges due to its high vehicle volume and limited space.

Kent County Council leader Roger Gough and Port of Dover CEO Doug Bannister have warned the UK government that the scheme’s implementation could disrupt the UK’s supply chain.

In addition to the biometric checks, by mid-2025, UK visitors to the Schengen area will need to apply online for entry permission. The Schengen area includes most of the EU, excluding Cyprus and Ireland, and also comprises Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.

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UK officials fear port chaos unless EU delays biometric plan again