The decision to delay the introduction will reportedly be discussed by the European Union in June and will come as a relief to transport bosses and coach operators.
Dover hit the headlines over the Easter period as passengers suffered through delays of up to 14 hours as they tried to get to Calais.
It was feared by some operators that they could face “pandemonium” if fingerprinting was added to passport checks at Dover, the Eurostar in London, and the Eurotunnel at Folkestone.
Chief executive of the Port of Dover, Doug Bannister, said a repeat or escalation of congestion similar to that seen at Easter would be “unacceptable”.
In a statement, the chair of the coach operator’s association UKCOA, Anthony Marett, said: “Easter was a perfect storm. You had coach travel returning at a scale not seen since the pandemic.
“You had all of the coaches descending on one infrastructure all at the same time. The return result of it was just pandemonium. If they introduce further checks that lead to delays, we think there will be quite a serious incident.”
Head of public affairs at Eurotunnel John Keefe told the Guardian that under the new entry and exit system (EES) which the EU was planning to introduce in November, passengers would have to agree to fingerprinting and facial image capture the first time they arrived in mainland Europe.
It was believed that after the initial entry of the data, getting into and out of Europe would be a quicker process. Despite the idea working in theory, in practice, there could be some serious issues for Dover and the Eurotunnel.
One of the problems is there is no room to create first-time registration zones for EES.
Mr Keefe said: “We support the process to get smart borders where more data is exchanged in advance and the process at the border post itself is conducted electronically. All of that is because it should speed things up. It is the enrolment process that is the issue.”
Mr Keefe added that there are problems with the technology proposed for use by the EU. There are concerns it may not work through tinted glass for example.
Furthermore, there are also concerns about mixed carloads and how this would affect EU passport holders travelling with family or friends who hold British passports.
This matter is complicated by a lack of clarity over which data will be collected at the point of exit from the UK and how much could be uploaded at home.
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Mr Bannister said: “Our modelling is in a way all over the place because, with a couple of small variable changes, it goes from being manageable to unacceptable.
“‘Manageable’ means peak periods with queues of between 45 and 90 minutes. If we’re getting into that kind of processing where you know, there are delays of 12 or 14 hours, I’d say that’s clearly unacceptable.”
A government spokesperson said they had recently met coach operators to discuss the implementation of the new ESS and that they were “working closely with port authorities and the French government to make sure passengers do not experience unnecessary delays”.
The EU’s delay of the deployment of facial recognition comes days after the UK government was criticised for using it during King Charles’ Coronation on Saturday.
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