New EU border rules could lead to 14-hour queues at the Port of Dover and cause chaos on Kent’s roads, MPs have been warned.
The bloc’s proposed Entry-Exit Scheme (EES) is set to come into force in October.
In “alarming” written evidence to Parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee, Ashford Borough Council (ABC) said a “reasonable worst case” scenario could see 14-hour delays at the Port of Dover if the scheme is implemented as currently planned.
The council said that “without useable systems” in place, the scheme would have considerable disruption on the Kent economy and for residents.
It also said that disruption to the Port of Dover could have a knock-on effect throughout the area.
For example, lengthy delays at the port would likely see queues along the A20 and M20, which could block access to staff and tourist traffic at Eurotunnel in Folkestone, impacting local businesses.
Tourism organisation Visit Kent told the cross-party committee it was concerned that the EES would disrupt the local economy.
It said 13% of local businesses who responded to their survey in August 2023 said that Operation Brock, the system used to manage traffic on the M20 in the event of long queues, had in the past had a negative impact on business.
More than half of respondents said loss of footfall was one of their top concerns, with 38% concerned about travel disruption, and 21% concerned about Operation Brock specifically.
Committee chair Sir William Cash said: “Queues of more than 14 hours; vehicles backed up along major roads; businesses starved of footfall: this evidence paints an alarming picture of the possible risks surrounding the Entry-Exit System’s implementation.
“Clearly, this policy could have a very serious impact, not only for tourists and travel operators but also for local businesses. I implore decision makers on both sides of the Channel to take note of this evidence.
“The scheme is due to be implemented in October this year; the clock is ticking, and these issues must be urgently addressed.”
The committee also received evidence from several other organisations set to play an active role in delivering the EES.
Eurostar said that juxtaposed border controls, where checks are completed before departure rather than on arrival, made implementing the EES “a unique challenge,” and that the system was designed for airports rather than terminals in city centres or with space constraints like at St Pancras International.
Several organisations said that the time taken on tourists’ first entry to the EU could increase significantly under the new rules.
Eurostar said that without upgrades, terminals could see queues of more than an hour at peak times.
Getlink, which operates the Channel Tunnel, said the EES would add 5-7 minutes to the overall journey time of its passengers.
High Speed 1, which operates high-speed rail services from UK stations, said that the decision not to enable online pre-registration would “put enormous pressure on infrastructure at St Pancras International”.
“Achieving an acceptable level of service on day one in all EU member states is likely to be impossible,” it said.
Without a mobile app, the scheme would need to be implemented gradually to avoid “severe disruption”.
KentOnline previously reported how the county’s transport chief was warning of three years of Operation Brock on the M20 as a result of new EU digital borders.
Meanwhile, Eurotunnel says it has invested £67 million in new infrastructure and refined processes to manage the impact of EES.
The Port of Dover has said land may be reclaimed from the sea to provide more space to process passengers when new Brexit checks come in.
Chief executive Doug Bannister said more physical space is needed to stop roads being clogged up by delayed traffic heading for the Eastern Docks.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: "If this nightmare scenario comes to pass then it will lie squarely on the heads of the British and French governments. This is a procedural change which has been long anticipated and could easily be mitigated through co-operation and adequate resourcing.
"Of course, it won't just be UK travellers and hauliers caught up in the congestion, many of those criss-crossing the Channel are European nationals, not least French.
"Should roads across Kent start to suffer because of delays at the ports then residents will be slow to forgive the authorities who should be facilitating plain sailing."
The EES has been drawn up to register entry and exit data of non-EU nationals – which, following the Brexit vote, now includes the British – when they cross an external border of the continental bloc.
The EU says it will “replace the current system of manual stamping of passports, which is time-consuming, and does not provide reliable data on border crossings and does not allow a systematic detection for over-stayers”.
The new system requires the gathering of biometric data – fingerprints scanned, photographs taken – in the presence of an officer when crossing the border.
This process is ill-suited to Kent’s cross-Channel ports where travellers are moving in vehicles and would have to exit them on foot to provide their details.