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The European Commission has told member states visitors from the UK won’t be allowed to use passport e-gates from January 1. Britons will be forced to join long queues of arrivals from the rest of the world, including the US and China. And the European Tourism Association has warned it means just one plane arriving from the UK at popular destinations, such as Faro, Alicante or Tenerife, could take nearly five hours to pass through a single passport lane.
British negotiators had asked Brussels to let European countries carry on giving British holidaymakers the same preferential treatment as now.
E-gates electronically scan biometric passports meaning travellers don’t have to be physically checked by a border guard.
They are in place at airports across the UK and Europe, as well as Eurostar terminals in Paris, Brussels and London.
They can only be used by citizens of the EU’s 27 member states, as well as those from Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.
The Commission has rejected Britain’s offer to maintain reciprocal access to the fast lanes after the end of the post-Brexit transition period on December 31.
At a private Brussels meeting this month, a top Eurocrat told capitals: “EU law currently reserves use of e-gates to holders of EU/EEA/CH passports.”
UK officials have warned EU counterparts their intransigence could lead to retaliation against European travellers arriving in Britain.
British ministers have previously said they will continue to let EU citizens keep access to fast lanes when arriving in the country after Brexit.
The row was confirmed by British and EU sources close to the wrangling over the future relationship pact.
A source in the UK negotiating team said: “We have offered to discuss access to e-gates in line with our previously published positions.”
Access to EU gates has not been discussed in the formal trade negotiations so far.
In line with the Political Declaration agreed between the Prime Minister and the EU last year, the UK Government has indicated a willingness to discuss reciprocal arrangements as part of the EU’s wider interest in international mobility.
British officials are keeping future arrangements for EU citizens at UK border gates under review.
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Visitors arriving from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the US, Singapore and South Korea are all allowed to use fast lanes in UK airports.
A senior EU diplomat said: “Having grown up in Brussels, Boris Johnson values the ability to travel freely to the continent. So it is perfectly apt that the UK is now asking the EU to change its own laws to accommodate London on someday it always had.
“We are probably in for another re-run of the ‘EU is being unfair’, ‘we’re only asking for a Canada-style deal’. It isn’t.”
A Brexiteer Tory MP said threats of border queues would likely fall away once the UK and EU agree any post-Brexit trade deal.
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He said: “There is a lot of nonsense being talked by both sides at the moment because we are trying to agree a deal with the EU.
“The truth of the matter is that if and when a free-trade agreement is struck – and I think it will be in the next few days – then I am sure suggestions like making us queue to get into France will disappear.
“This is just the sort of nonsense that flies around during negotiations.”
Studies have concluded loss of access to e-gates and extra post-Brexit checks could add hours to airport waiting times.
As it stands, border officials spend just 25 seconds checking passports but this will increase by an extra 90 seconds for UK passengers.
Officials at Schiphol in Amsterdam, one of Europe’s largest airports, have warned this could mean queues of more than an hour for visitors arriving on busy flights.
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