MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: Is the EU punishing us for the temerity of Brexit? It seems so
One of our greatest Foreign Secretaries, Ernest Bevin, declared back in 1951: ‘My policy is to be able to take a ticket at Victoria Station and go anywhere I damn well please.’ It is a good policy. Peaceful travel is a huge force for good, destroying prejudice, educating us in the admirable things about our neighbours, making conflict and misunderstanding less likely.
It is also fun. Life is immeasurably better in this age of easy, affordable travel than when we were stuck at home.
Not long before Bevin made his statement, he could have done more or less as he pleased, for passports only became a normal requirement for travelling Britons after the outbreak of the First World War.
A memento of this relaxed and vanished age of free movement still exists at Blackfriars Railway Station in London, where the names of possible destinations are carved on the pillars – Berlin and Bromley, Naples and Sheerness, Westgate-on-Sea and Venice, all mixed up together as if it didn’t matter whether you were going to Canterbury or St Petersburg.
Decades of war and tension changed all that. But even so, those who can recall travelling on the Continent before Britain joined the Common Market can still remember a remarkably relaxed regime, a quick glance and a blurred rubber stamp. There was even the ‘British Visitor’s Passport’, which you could get without fuss from a Post Office or a Labour Exchange, valid almost everywhere in Western Europe.
Then Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin giving a speech around 1950
How strange, then, that a supposedly more unified and peaceful Europe should reverse all this. Are we being punished for our temerity in leaving the EU? It looks like it.
We have not ceased to be a civilised and law-governed country, so why must we be treated as some sort of menace?
Europeans claim in principle to favour free movement. The EU enthusiastically abolished its internal borders, yet it is now planning to impose a system designed to make travel across the Channel as dismal and bureaucratic as possible.
Having abolished the old Iron Curtain, Brussels now proposes to kettle the UK behind an Electronic Curtain. There will be fingerprints and facial recognition, and all kinds of highly personal data fed into the EU’s computers.
‘What could possibly go wrong?’ one might ask. This nightmare is called ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System). Its supporters justify it by comparing it with the USA’s similar ESTA, but who would model their border control on America’s ultra-suspicious and unfriendly frontiers, with their endless queues for the law-abiding, while illegal migrants still flow in, in uncounted multitudes, along the Mexican border? So much for the pretext of ‘security’.
The EU, like America, surely needs to worry more about illegal migrants crossing the Mediterranean and planning to stay than about British tourists arriving for a fortnight’s holiday.
Those in charge know this is going to be a major nuisance, or why is implementation likely to be put off until after the Paris Olympics, when France hopes for a major surge of visitors?
Apparently, this unwelcome – yet still avoidable – change has already long been agreed by UK diplomats during the original negotiations on our departure from the EU. In that case, the Government must reopen the issue before it is too late, and at least achieve another postponement while it is reconsidered.
This was a serious mistake. There is no good justification for it. It should be reversed.
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