Loophole lets passengers into UK illegally

2011-12-08 21:05
London - An administrative loophole allows passengers on the Eurostar train to enter Britain without any passport checks and London is powerless to stop the practice alone, the BBC reported on Thursday.

British border officials trying to weed out suspected offenders at the Brussels train station have been threatened with arrest by Belgian police, it said citing internal government documents and e-mails.

The so-called "Lille loophole" allows passengers using the Eurostar to miss border checks by buying a train ticket from Brussels to Lille in northern France, and then staying on until London.

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) operates border controls in the country of departure, so if a passenger buys a ticket from Brussels to London, he goes through passport control.

But if he buys a ticket from Brussels to Lille - both part of the Schengen zone that allows people to cross members' borders without passport checks - he does not.

Because no-one checks whether passengers get off at Lille and because UKBA does not perform checks on board, these passengers can actually get into Britain without having their passport checked, an investigation by BBC Radio found.

UK border officials trying to question suspected offenders at the Brussels train station have been repeatedly threatened by Belgian police, it said.

‘You are now in Schengen’

In one such incident one border official said that after he questioned two passengers who "bore all the hallmarks of Lille loopholers" in April, he was accosted by Belgian police officers.

"This has got to stop, you are not in Britain now, you are in Schengen," he said the Belgian officer shouted.

"If they make a complaint, you will be arrested," he said, referring to the two suspects.

Another UKBA officer warned that British staff were so scared of being arrested by the Belgian police that they "will now turn a blind eye to potential Lille loopholers".

British Immigration Minister Damian Green said the "Lille loophole" could only be closed through negotiations with European countries, and Britain was powerless to act on its own.

"It's one of those things that the British government can't solve on its own... that has to be solved in negotiations and that's what we're now doing," Green said.

He added: "There are strict British immigration controls in place in France and Belgium and we have UK Border Agency officers based at St Pancras (the Eurostar train station in London) to target those we believe are intent on entering Britain illegally.

"We are currently working closely with our Belgian counterparts and Eurostar to resolve this as quickly as possible."

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