European airport delays—is Brexit to blame?

4 August 2017
What was claimed

EU airports are punishing Britain for Brexit with long queues caused by tougher security checks.

Our verdict

The stricter EU border controls were proposed six months before the EU referendum in December 2015 and came into force in April 2017. The controls affect all passengers entering and leaving the European border-free Schengen area, not just UK citizens.

“MPs hit back after passengers blame huge passport queues at European airports on decision to leave EU – even though it has nothing to do with vote”

The Sun, 2 August 2017

“New border rules are just EU’s bid to punish Britain”

Leo McKinstry in the Daily Express, 3 August 2017

New EU regulations now require every passenger travelling in and out of the Schengen area—the EU’s border-free travel zone—to be “systematically checked”.

Previously, EU passengers entering and leaving the Schengen area were able to pass through border control with “minimum checks”—this is essentially checking the passport is valid and making sure it matches the passenger. Consulting national and European security databases to ensure the passport holder doesn’t pose a threat was done on a “non-systematic basis”.

The rules were also previously not as strict on checks for non-EU passengers leaving the Schengen area.

The new rules, which came into force on 7 April 2017, now mean that the checks against various security databases must be made for everyone entering and leaving the Schengen area. Though coming into force in spring, the regulations only made headline news recently during the peak of the holiday season, where the tougher passport checks have been causing delays.

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A Brexit punishment?

It has been suggested that the queues come from the EU, or countries in the EU, wanting to punish the UK over Brexit.

The new regulations were set out in a proposal in December 2015, six months before the Brexit referendum—so they’re not a direct response to the vote. The EU says they were made in “response to the increase of terrorist threats in Europe… but should address all potential risks to internal security.”

The rules also don’t affect the UK exclusively. For example, they add more stringent checks for all EU citizens travelling to the six EU countries not in the Schengen area—Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Ireland, Romania, and the UK—and also confirm the need for stringent checks for all non-EU citizens leaving the Schengen area.

There has been some debate over the extent to which the queues could have been alleviated by authorities in each country, and why they haven’t been. The EU security commissioner, Sir Julian King, reportedly said on Wednesday that “border agencies and airport authorities have had lots of time to prepare and put in place the necessary arrangements and staff”.

The new regulations also state that “member states should deploy appropriate staff and resources in sufficient numbers to carry out systematic checks in order to prevent such checks from causing disproportionate waiting times and hindering the flow of traffic at external borders”.

If airports have purposefully chosen not to get extra staff in to make Brits queue for longer, then it’s a punishment that won’t be falling on Brits alone. 

An airline lobby group Airlines for Europe has put the queues down to European governments underestimating the impact of the tighter checks, telling the BBC:

“It seems the governments - especially in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Belgium - underestimated the situation of many passengers going through tighter passport checks and have not provided a sufficient amount of border control officers.”

Update 8 August 2017

We removed the following sentence from the conclusion to make it shorter: "Some have suggested EU airports have purposefully not put on extra staff to ease the impact of these controls on passengers, but if that was the case it wouldn’t be a punishment for UK passengers alone."

Correction 14 August 2017

We originally said Hungary was not part of the Schengen area, when in fact it is. We also didn't include Croatia in our list of EU countries who aren't part of the Schengen area.

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