The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has called on the Government not to ‘wash its hands’ of issues around post-Brexit red tape, as he issued a warning about potential chaos facing passengers using Eurostar.
Earlier this week, HS1, the owner and operator of the line and stations between London and the Channel tunnel, raised concerns that planning for the new EU biometric Entry/Exit System (EES) checks at St Pancras station (replacing the stamping of passports for UK travellers) are “severely inadequate”, and could lead to long delays and potential capping of services and passenger numbers.
18.6m people used the Eurostar last year, a rise of 22 per cent on the previous 12 months and a return to levels last seen in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic. This regular, reliable service is an essential part of London’s international transport infrastructure for both tourism and business travellers.
In their evidence to the European Scrutiny Select Committee, HS1 pointed out that the need to register a non-EU passenger is expected to take at least an additional 2 minutes per passenger if carried out solely at the border. Furthermore, only 24 EES kiosks had been allocated to St Pancras by the French government, despite modelling suggesting that nearly 50 would be needed at peak times.
The Mayor is today warning that hours of additional queues at St Pancras would send a terrible signal to tourists and businesses who travel regularly between London and Paris, and other key European destinations.
London is roaring back from the pandemic with retail footfall up across the capital and inbound visits to London edging closer towards pre-Covid 2019 levels for the first half of 2023 (9.5m) with spending returning to levels last seen in 2019. Tourism supports sectors contributing £76bn to London’s economy, employing about 1 in 5 workers in London.
The new EES checks are expected to come into operation in October, the start of London’s events, retail, and leisure industries’ ‘golden quarter’ leading up to Christmas, with many businesses relying on this time for a significant proportion of their annual profits.
The Mayor has been lobbying ministers for a return to VAT-free shopping for tourists, which would be a much-needed boost for London’s retail sector. while the treasury has now agreed to review the end of tax-free shopping, any progress on this issue would be undermined if passengers on Eurostar faced increased delays and cuts to services.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said: “The success of the Eurostar is a vital part of London’s and the UK’s economic success – with St Pancras a gateway for huge numbers of tourists and business people in the country.
“As it stands these new post-Brexit checks will cause chaos at St Pancras, with cuts to services and potentially huge queues facing passengers at peak times. This is directly a result of Brexit, and it’s not an issue ministers can now wash their hands of.
“With London’s economy roaring back after the pandemic, this sends a terrible signal to both tourists and businesses from around the world.
“Ministers now need to offer HS1 and Eurostar all the support it needs to resolve these issues as a matter of urgency. Cuts to services and longer delays simply isn’t an option.”
John Dickie, Chief Executive at BusinessLDN, said: “London’s status as a global city depends on its ability to provide seamless international connectivity.
“Eurostar and HS1 provide a key link for business and leisure travellers, so the Government must urgently find a solution that prevents these new checks causing lengthy delays in the run up to Christmas. We should be rolling out the red carpet for overseas visitors to the UK, rather than making them wait or be turned away at the front door due to a combination of red tape and inadequate resourcing.”
Bernard Donoghue OBE, Director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) said: “The anticipated delays, and the significant delays at ports we have already seen since Brexit, further undermine the UK’s reputation as an attractive, accessible destination. We are all working hard to recover overseas tourism back to pre-pandemic levels and these bureaucratic obstacles thwart these ambitions”.