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Brexit: European Travel Information and Authorisation System

Volume 788: debated on Wednesday 17 January 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the European Union about British citizens being subject to the European Travel Information and Authorisation System for travel to the European Union if the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, and about the costs arising from that System that British citizens might face.

My Lords, the EU is discussing a proposal for a European travel information and authorisation system that will apply to third-country nationals. The final details of that system have not yet been agreed. It is still too early to say what procedures will be in place for British citizens travelling to the EU after we leave. We will discuss these matters as part of our future relationship discussions.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. At present, all that a British citizen needs to do to go to Spain on holiday or to Germany on business is to present a passport at the border. If we Brexit, they will have to apply for an ETIAS, which is similar to a US ESTA. The fee could become significant and it could take four days for approval. It would require the supply of biometric data and details of health, criminal record and previous immigration history. When will the Government level with the British people about how this is another example of Brexit increasing costs and red tape? Is it not another reason why the British people should be able to exit from Brexit?

No, my Lords, it is not. The noble Baroness is making a whole series of assumptions in her question, none of which may turn out to be true. We are still to have the discussions with the EU on the future relationship in terms of how people will travel backwards and forwards. When we have had those discussions and reached a conclusion, we will be sure to let her know.

My Lords, yesterday we had a debate in this House about the question of deal or no deal—indeed, the Minister was here late last night to answer it—and the majority of speakers from the government Benches indicated that they were quite content with the no-deal option, which would mean abruptly crashing out from all EU arrangements and procedures at the end of March next year. Will the Minister confirm that Ministers really would jeopardise British citizens’ rights to travel on holiday visa free, and to work in the EU, as the price of their failure to agree terms with the EU?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question, but I am slightly surprised that she is coming back to this subject, as we spent about four hours debating it last night. Perhaps it would be helpful to read Hansard. No, we have been very clear that no deal is not an outcome that we want or expect. We are working to get a deal but, as a responsible Government, we have to be prepared for any eventuality. We discussed these issues in great detail last night.

My Lords, my noble friend said that the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, was making assumptions. Indeed she was. What assumptions is he making?

I thank the noble Lord—my noble friend, I should say—for his very helpful question. We are trying to get a good deal and are not making any assumptions. We are negotiating in good faith with our EU friends and partners, and we are confident of obtaining that deal.

My Lords, what plans do the Government have for explaining to the British people the consequences of any eventuality that we may face?

Sorry, that is a very wide-ranging question. We communicate, through this House and frequent media and TV interviews, with everyone about the consequences of government policy. We are always keen to do better in terms of explaining that, but on all the consequences of the agreements that we reach we will report back fully to Parliament and to the public as a whole.

My Lords, may I ask the Minister a more helpful question? Does he agree that the way forward here is for visa-free access between ourselves and the EU, and that we should join the 61 countries that already have such access to the EU? For our part, we should insist on visas only for those who wish to work, and those who wish to work should be invited to get a work permit on the same terms as non-EU. Is it not now time for the Government to look forward a bit, consider the slightly wider context and produce this sensible way forward?

Of course, all questions from your Lordships are helpful in this House. We have been very clear that we are going to have these discussions with the EU. We want to get an agreement and to make travel for EU citizens coming to the UK, and UK citizens going to the EU, as easy and painless as possible.

My Lords, at the moment citizens from the European Economic Area can use the electronic gates at UK airports. What contingency planning have the Government done should EEA nationals no longer be able to use the e-gates after Brexit? It is reported that, at one point on 29 December, at Heathrow terminal 4 non-EEA passport holders had to wait two and a half hours to cross the UK border.

I think that the Liberal Democrats are yet again making a whole series of assumptions about things that may not happen. If there are delays at the border, that is clearly unacceptable and I am sure that my Home Office colleagues are looking at that. We want people to visit the UK, we want the UK to be an open and welcoming place, the e-gates are one way that the Home Office is improving the procedures and we will want them to continue after Brexit.

My Lords, can I ask an even more helpful question than has come forward so far? So far, we have been discussing the signed agreements to the main treaty. Is it not becoming increasingly apparent that the real loser from not signing most of these agreements will be the EU itself?

My Lords, I think that no agreement would be bad for both sides; that is why we want an agreement.

My Lords, is it not the case that, in this and many other areas in which we are negotiating with our present partners, we are nowhere near completion? Should we not be trying to talk to our partners about extending the time to allow proper negotiation and proper solutions to the many problems that we face with Brexit?

As the noble Lord will be aware, the Article 50 process sets out the timescale, and we are very confident that we can reach agreement in the timescale set out.

My Lords, perhaps I can help the Minister with his assumptions. Do the Government assume that, at the end of this process, we will have the status of a third country in our relations with the EU or an associated country? The noble Baroness who answered the first Question mentioned the parallels with Switzerland and Norway. Do we see ourselves as having a close association agreement, or are we content to be just one of the many third countries?

We will be leaving the EU next year; we will be outside the EU. The precise form of the arrangement, whatever terminology we attach to it, will be the subject of the negotiations.