Huge queues form at Eurostar Paris terminal on Easter Monday

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Eurostar’s attempt to blame Brexit for delays in processing passengers is a blatant attempt to divert blame from its own shortcomings, former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib has said. And he also claimed the problems were inextricably linked with “absurd” EU red tape which requires people travelling to the continent from Britain to be finger-printed.

Mr Habib was speaking after outgoing Eurostar chief executive Jacques Damas warned long daily queues at London St Pancras International are only being avoided by the company limiting capacity on some trains.

In a letter to Tory MP Huw Merriman, who chairs the Transport Select Committee, Mr Damas wrote that the stamping of British passports by foreign border officials adds “at least 15 seconds” to the processing time for each passenger.

He also stated that the European Union’s incoming Entry/Exit System (EES) “hangs over us”.

EES is due to be introduced next year, and is expected to involve travellers from non-EU countries such the UK having their fingerprints scanned and a photograph taken to register them onto a database the first time they enter a member state.

Mr Habib, who was one of 29 Brexit Party MPs elected to the European Parliament in 2019, told “Eurostar is being less than economical with the truth when it blames Brexit border checks for its failing service.

“Like so many French businesses, it would rather blame the Brits than exercise a degree of introspection.”

He explained: “First and foremost, there is no need for extra passports checks. EU citizens arriving in the UK are welcome to use our e-gates.

“If the French and the EU were interested in efficiency they would adopt the same pragmatic British approach. That they do not is their prerogative but has nothing to do with Brexit.

“As Mr Macron well knows, the problem with illegal migration is from France to the UK, not the other way round.

“No one embarking from the UK needs to be fingerprinted – an absurd policy for UK/European travel.”

Border checks were not in fact the problem, Mr Habib stressed.

Mr Habib, who is also chief executive of property investment company First Property Group, said: “Whether you can process one passenger every 1.6 seconds or 2.4 seconds, the difference in time about which Eurostar complains, is not the issue.

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Mr Damas should cease trying to find political scapegoats for his company’s failings

Ben Habib

“If I were being charitable, I would blame the increase in fuel costs and a broken labour market resulting from lockdowns.

“The less charitable and more accurate assessment would be that Eurostar, again like so many French businesses, is run badly.

“Mr Damas should cease trying to find political scapegoats for his company’s failings. He should concentrate a little on improving his service.” 

In his letter, Mr Damas claimed even with all border booths manned, St Pancras could only process a “maximum” of 1,500 passengers per hour compared with 2,200 in 2019, before the Brexit transition period ended.

He also stated that Eurostar took on £500 million in commercial debt due to the drop in revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

He told Mr Merriman that these were the “main factors” why the company will not resume operations at either of its Kent stations – Ashford and Ebbsfleet – until at least 2025, and will stop direct trains between London and Disneyland Paris from June 5 next year.

Serving the Kent stations would “make things even worse” at London St Pancras International as it would “take away from London vital border police”.

Mr Damas wrote that the operator must focus on its core routes – connecting London with Paris and Brussels – where it can “charge higher prices to our customers”, rather than “pursue a strategy of volume and growth”.

He added: “In such an uncertain context, I have the duty, as CEO, to make the right decision and secure my company’s future.

“I am therefore cautious not to overcommit.”

Gwendoline Cazenave, who has been a partner at management consultancy Oliver Wyman for the past two years, will succeed Jacques Damas on October 1.

Eurostar International Limited is owned by Eurostar Group, in which SNCF Voyageurs, an independent subsidiary of French national railway company SNCF, owns a 55 percent stake.

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