My excellent webmaster, Jon Worth, has written a blog post about his experiences earlier today with security on the Eurostar from Brussels.
He describes the pointless inconveniences that were introduced to plug the holes in an already leaky system. The extra measures in place on his journey were presumably intended to plug the Lille loophole, described in the Telegraph today. Yet the “solution” provided hardly seems cost-efficient or particularly effective.
The Sunday Telegraph explains the problem as follows:
“The loophole centres on the Schengen agreement signed between a number of European countries, including France and Belgium, which allows people to cross borders without passport checks.
The UK is not in the agreement can therefore check the passports of passengers travelling here.
As a result there are two gates for Eurostar trains in Brussels, one for those going to Lille, which does not have passport checks, and one for the UK, which does.
It means an individual could buy two tickets and then pass through the Lille gate but stay on the train to London without having their passport examined.”
Jon Worth describes the extra checks which took place on his train (no doubt as a result of this morning’s article in the Sunday Telegraph):
“Then today when the train called at Lille for more passengers to alight and board, we were told on the public address system in the train that there would be additional checks in the train between Lille and Calais. These checks were carried out by a team of 7 French rail police carrying guns and batons, but just checking tickets (and not passports). I asked the policeman who checked my ticket why he was doing so. “Parce-que c’est comme ça” (because that’s the way it is) he replied. I pushed him further, saying that of course I had to have a valid ticket, because how otherwise could I have actually got on the train? “C’est contre la fraude” (it’s against fraud) was the best I got out of him before he moved off.”
So that wouldn’t have prevented anyone with evil intent slipping into the UK.
However, today there was an additional check at St Pancras:
“Then upon arrival in St Pancras, not announced to passengers on the train, all passports and all tickets were being checked by UK Borders at the exit. Which – quite frankly – seems to render other checks superfluous. Why bother having a UK Border check in Brussels, and French police check in the train, if you’re then going to check in London too?”
Excellent – apart from the extra costs of the unnecessary and ineffective security checks beforehand.
But what about the impact on passengers? As Jon Worth points out:
“due to the small terminal exit and a few hundred people streaming off a train, the checks are not swift in London.”
This means at peak time there will either be terrible delays or – as happened with other border controls – the extra checks will be lifted.
The problem is potentially serious and it is amazing that the Home Office seems so relaxed about it.