Rishi Sunak is said to be eyeing up a new deal with the EU to ease the post-Brexit woes of Britons travelling to the bloc after recent chaos at the border.
The prime minister wants an agreement that would let UK citizens use the EU’s e-gates for passport checks, according to Bloomberg.
British diplomats have raised the issue with Brussels informally, according to the report, citing a UK official and people familiar with government thinking. No 10 sources insist that no formal proposal has been put forward.
Ongoing travel problems marks the next big EU headache for Mr Sunak, coming after his compromise deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol and recent summits with Emmanuel Macron on the small boats crisis.
Mr Sunak – marking six months at No 10 after Liz Truss’s disastrous six-week spell – is under pressure from business chiefs to ease “friction” with the neighbouring bloc.
Some EU member states – including Spain and Portugal – already let British citizens use their e-gates at major airports in a bid to ease pressure, but an EU-wide deal would speed up the process for all British travellers who mostly have to queue up for a manned desk.
The manual checks at EU borders, which now require the stamping of British passports since Brexit, have caused bottlenecks during busy periods.
It follows a delay that will allow British travellers to keep entering the EU without having their fingerprints and facial biometrics taken until 2024 at the earliest.
Europe’s delayed entry/exit system (EES) was expected to take effect in 2021 and is currently due to commence in November 2023.
But The Independent revealed earlier this month that the electronic border scheme will not now go ahead this year because the database on which it depends will not be ready in time.
The postponement came as a huge relief for the authorities at the Port of Dover, Eurotunnel and Eurostar, which have all seen huge problems due to the inspection of passports.
The added bureaucracy that the UK signed up for in the EU Withdrawal Agreement has caused ongoing problems with gridlock at Dover.
At the start of the Easter school holidays, thousands of coach passengers waited up to 20 hours at the border because of extended border control processes following Brexit.
Travel chiefs have warned that there is currently no obvious solution for the extra operations involved in capturing fingerprints and facial biometrics when they do come into force.
Doug Bannister, chief executive of the Port of Dover, said it was “going to present some challenges”.
Mr Sunak was directly challenged over post-Brexit “friction” with the EU at a gathering of 200 business leaders on Monday.
Gerry Murphy, chief executive of fashion brand Burberry, told the PM new rulebook that changes to VAT shopping rules are a “spectacular own goal” and said Brexit “has had a significant friction effect on trade”.
Mr Sunak is set to meet European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen at the G7 summit in Japan in May.
The PM enjoys closer ties with the EU leader than Boris Johnson or Ms Truss, having forged a post-Brexit “Windsor Framework” compromise to ease trading checks between GB and NI.