Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

That’s just loopy

Posted in Europe, Great Britain, High Speed, Politics by Chairman Pip on 29 February 2012

The “Lille Loophole” has made the news again. Well, I say again, but it looks like in reality it’s just the right-wing tabloid press that is bringing it up, if the headlines from this week are anything to go by:

France and Belgium refuse to close ‘Lille loophole’ which lets migrants slip into UK without a passport for less than £70 a time
Daily Mail

Loophole gives migrants one-way ticket to Britain
Daily Express

Migrant Chaos
Daily Star

It would seem, according to the stories published herein, that the French and Belgian governments have completely refused to do anything about the “interesting little problem” of passengers being able to board trains in Brussels with tickets for Lille, who then simply stay on the train until it reaches London. According to these stories, Britain has formally asked both SNCF and SNCB/NMBS to cease selling tickets for travel on Eurostar services between Brussels-Midi and Lille Europe, to which the Belgians have issued a categorical refusal:

He (Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo) is completely opposed to the British wish to end high-speed cross-Channel trains stopping at Lille.
Belgian diplomatic source

Why the Belgian Prime Minister should be so adamant about that, I’m not entirely certain. However, that is neither here nor there. The question, which is valid, is what does the government propose doing about it? I suggested that, while the French and Belgian governments might oppose passport checks due to their both being in the Schengen Area, surely they could have no objection to Eurostar, which after all is now a private company in its own right, and not a brand run by SNCF and SNCB/NMBS any more, having vigourous on train ticket checks, and equally vigourous ticket checks at the barriers at London St Pancras. However, there was something that was in one of the articles that caught my eye and made me think:

If the French and Belgian governments continue to refuse to close the loophole the UK Border Agency should place border staff on every train to identify those seeking to enter the UK illegally.
Keith Vaz, Home Affairs Select Committee Chairman 

While the Belgians might protest against this idea between Brussels and Lille, what precisely is to stop this being the case between Lille and London? After all, in most cases trains do not stop between leaving Lille and exiting the tunnel (a handful stop at Calais-Fréthun), so there is no reason, if it is decided people shouldn’t be delayed once they get to London, that they shouldn’t have their passports checked on the train and, if they don’t have passports with them, because they’re “Lille Loopholers”, then they can be brought aside and deported on the next train. Problem solved.

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