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Exiting the EU: Inbound Passengers

Volume 621: debated on Thursday 23 February 2017

7. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on inbound passengers at airports and ports across the UK. (908844)

9. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on inbound passengers at airports and ports across the UK. (908846)

10. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on inbound passengers at airports and ports across the UK. (908847)

The Government are considering potential impacts on the border as part of our preparations for negotiating our departure from the EU. It is too soon to say what arrangements will be needed, but we are very conscious of the interest of the transport industry in future arrangements. We remain committed to putting passengers at the heart of our transport policy.

Does taking back control of our borders mean that the 23 million inbound passengers from the EU who pass through our airports each year will be subject to full border checks? Is the Secretary of State aware of research by the Tourism Industry Council that shows that that would require the resources of UK Border Force to be increased by 200%? Will he assure us that those costs will not be met from the £350 million he promised for the NHS each week?

It is already the case that when an EU citizen arrives in this country, they have to show their passport. I do not envisage that changing in the future.

The reality is that since 2011 this Government have cut the UK Border Force budget by 15%, despite it having to cope with an 11% increase in passenger numbers over the same period. That is already having an impact on passengers. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Home Secretary to make sure that neither passengers nor border security are prejudiced or compromised after Brexit?

The hon. Gentleman will know that in recent years we have significantly increased automation at airports, with e-gates for passports, which provides a good way of balancing the need for effective border controls and the ability to live within our means.

Under service level agreements between the Government and UK airports, passengers from the European economic area are expected to queue for no longer than 25 minutes while those from outside that area are expected to queue for no longer for 45 minutes. Does the Secretary of State believe that those service level agreements will need to be revised post-Brexit?

I reiterate what the Prime Minister said recently: our desire post-Brexit is not to have long queues at our borders, but to have sensible arrangements that allow people to travel to do business, and controls on migration to the United Kingdom, which I think people voted for last year.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that when the UK leaves the EU, we will be free to open dedicated entry lanes at our airports for UK citizens and citizens of our overseas territories, thereby speeding up entry to the UK?

As my hon. Friend knows, it will be for this House and this Government to decide how best to manage our borders post-Brexit. I am sure that he would wish to ensure that, where appropriate, there is the smoothest possible passage through our borders for people we wish to welcome to our country.

At a sitting of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee this week, several witnesses expressed concern about the time that would be required to undertake a considerable physical reconfiguration of airports. Is the Secretary of State having conversations with the airports about the possible scenarios?

I had a meeting with airlines and airports earlier this week and we will continue to consult the industry carefully. As I have said, people who arrive from all around the world already have to show their passports when they arrive in the United Kingdom, so I do not envisage the dramatic change that some are suggesting.

21. It is of course likely that queues for inbound passengers will increase in the UK post-Brexit, which will have an effect on the UK’s competitiveness in the pan-European tourism market. What assurances and evidence can the Secretary of State provide that interdepartmental work is being done to ensure that there is as little disruption as possible and our tourism market, which is vital for jobs and the economy, is not adversely affected? (908862)

The hon. Lady makes an assumption that I simply do not accept. It is already the case that people arriving at our borders have to show their passports before entering the country. I do not envisage that changing. We certainly do not envisage a situation in which we create vast additional queues at our borders. We want a smooth, streamlined process so that people who have a right to come here can do so and be welcome.

In addition to the ongoing discussions with UK ports and airports, what discussions have taken place with the Treasury about encouraging inbound passengers by reducing VAT on tourism?

Taxation is an issue for the Budget. Many representations are made by people across this House and across society to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about what he might or might not do in his Budget. I fear that the hon. Lady will have to wait for a short while to see what he has in store for us this year.

To reduce delays at UK airports, EU nationals who arrive in the UK are processed faster due to what is called a “soft border” approach, using special lanes and scanning. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government intend to continue those measures after the UK has left the EU?

We will decide the detailed arrangements as the months go by but, as I have said, it is not our intention to create queues at our borders. It will remain the case that people have to show their passports when they arrive in the United Kingdom. There is a warm welcome for people from all around the world who come to the UK as tourists, as visitors or to do business, and there will continue to be so.

Currently EU nationals can use the expensive but effective e-passport gates. Will the Secretary of State confirm that those machines will effectively become redundant? If so, do the Government intend to offer them second hand to our European neighbours at bargain prices to recoup some of the cost?

Actually, I expect more use of technology in countries around the world to move people through passport lanes. I expect such a change to accelerate, rather than decelerate.