Eurostar "customs" checks at St Pancras

Discussion in 'International Transport' started by paddington, 14 Oct 2019.

  1. paddington

    paddington Member

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    Just arrived in the UK on Eurostar and all passengers had to go through immigration and ticket checks upon arrival. It was unclear what was actually being checked. There were 2 narrow lanes and one wide lane set up in the corridor at he bottom of the travelators. It was unclear what the lanes were for as the overhead display screen's font size was too small to read. By the time one passed the screen, it was too late to go into another lane.

    Each lane led to two officers, thus the wide lane moved twice as slowly as the narrow lanes. The officers on the right were Eurostar agents (much like those doing the UK "exit check") while the other officers were UKBF.

    The Eurostar agents glanced at people's passports and then waved them through very quickly.The UKBF officers were asking for tickets and comparing passport photos to faces carefully.

    I overheard an officer being questioned and he said that the officers in Paris/Brussels did immigration while he was doing customs. This was a blatant lie / fob off as customs involves checking baggage and customs agents at the airport don't ask for passports (unless you are caught making a false declaration). Also HMRC should be performing customs checks rather than UKBF, and UKBF really has no business checking tickets (they don't do it at the airport).

    Perhaps this is a trial run to see how long it takes,w and they didn't actually check luggage since we haven't left the EU yet. I was off the train quite early so I wasn't massively inconvenienced, but those at the back must have been delayed some time.

    I will be avoiding Eurostar from now on unless there are more positive reports in the future. I'm prepared for this when flying, so don't mind so much but I expect to be off a Eurostar and onto thameslink in 5 mins.
     
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  3. johnnychips

    johnnychips Established Member

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    There was a time maybe five years ago or so, though I stand to be corrected when all trains from Belgium were checked at St Pancras because of the Lille Loophole: passengers from Brussels could get a ticket just to Lille, pass security checks, then just stay on board. It has now been eliminated by having a segregated carriage for that journey. I don’t remember it being a great inconvenience though.
     
  4. Wychwood93

    Wychwood93 Member

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    I have been at the same sort of situation at St.P some 3 or 4 years ago - more likely the latter - checking everybody and then realising that they did not have enough resource there and ended up waving everyone through. I missed an earlier home arrival as a result. Whatever people may think there are always people there, observing, whether you are going in to the UK or out of it - ditto for Paris/Brussels etc. Unhindered travel across borders is a myth - I know we are not Schengen - but all of the EU looks at 'stuff'.
     
  5. 30907

    30907 Established Member

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    Plenty of staff around in the customs area last Tuesday at 1900 but no checks.
     
  6. Puppetfinger

    Puppetfinger Member

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    Whilst Eurostar benefits from the juxtaposed border controls, both PAF and UKBF can carry out checks again in their own territory for whatever reason.

    UKBF have all the legal powers to carry out customs checks. On the Dover Ferry routes, customs checks are carried out in the UK on arrival whilst immigration checks are done in France, exactly as the officer your overheard described, Eurostar is no different, although the frequency is perhaps not as great.

    I have also seen ID checks carried out by UKBF or UK Police on arriving domestic flights.
     
  7. Elwyn

    Elwyn Member

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    It’s not a blatant lie/fob off.

    The UK Border Control was re-organized some years ago. The Home Office staff who did immigration passport control and HM Customs who did Customs checks were combined to created UKBF. The VAT and other revenue control activities were given to HMRC, a separate Government department. HMRC don’t routinely exercise functions at UK borders. That is normally all UKBF activity.

    Checking passports prior to arrival has various benefits to both the UK and the carriers (whether airline, train or ferry). The UK benefits by preventing inadmissible passengers from travelling to the UK and from the removals, detention costs and asylum claims that may accompany that. The carrying companies benefit by a) not having to pay fines for bringing inadmissible passengers to the UK & b) by the fact their passengers don’t have to queue for passport control. In most cases for them an international arrival is little different from a domestic arrival.

    However Customs Controls can be more problematic. It is sometimes necessary to conduct controls on arrival in the UK in order to determine precisely who is bringing what into the country. So UKBF staff have two entirely different (but often related) areas of work, and there are different methods of working to deal with both.

    Freedom of movement under the EU allows for intelligence led stops anywhere. So whilst you may generally walk through the EU channel with no-one there, if there’s a special operation on you might find every passenger is stopped. EU law allows for that. And Post EU law obviously will also allow that.

    UKBF Officers can ask any reasonable question related to the matter they are investigating. UKBF has the power to check tickets, ask for passports or any other reasonable query if it helps identify someone breaching the law. The questions can vary according to the matter under investigation but it’s not correct to say “UKBF has no business checking tickets.” You don’t actually know what they were looking for.


    PS As you might guess, I used to work in that line of business!
     
  8. Gadget88

    Gadget88 Member

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    They have always done random checks.
     
  9. riceuten

    riceuten Member

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    There's an amount of politics that needs to be added to the mix here - at either end. The reality is that there is an expectation that there ought to be strong border controls to (cough) "stem the hordes of immigrants flooding into the country" (no loaded language, there). The Daily Mail have long campaigned for people to be counted in and counted out of the country, involving a passport check at airports on departure. They and the Express were one of the main propagators of the "Lille Loophole" story, even though Eurostar estimated that this was used by the equivalent of less than one passenger a day. Older members of the forum will remember when passport checks were undertaken on the train itself - this is what many countries do, to ensure people without appropriate visas do not actually cross the border.

    I have been checked - customs wise - a couple of times coming back from mainland Europe, but not my passport at St Pancras, though I've seen a few people stopped - presumably they were pre-notified by the authorities on departure.
     
  10. Customsbod

    Customsbod New Member

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    Whatever gives you the idea that Border Force Officers cannot stop, search, question and detain you?
    A Border Force Officer is a Designated Customs Official, an Immigration Officer or (shock) both! with all the powers & responsibilities that this entails.

    Checking your passport AND ticket is more than permissible. Section 78 of Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 gives an Officer that Power and the power to ask any questions they deem relevant to ascertain verification of what they are looking for. You don't have to be in a port (and train stations with International arrivals are a port) for an officer to enforce that - maybe you protest too much and have a little something you shouldn't have???
     
  11. sprunt

    sprunt Member

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    Or just maybe someone who's already been through the border check and customs procedure as required before getting on the train doesn't want to be held up after getting off the train.
     
  12. Elwyn

    Elwyn Member

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    There will always be situations in which passengers cleared in advance of entry to a country require some element of additional examination on arrival. Most experienced international passengers will have encountered that. Not just in the UK but in other jurisdictions too. If you travel from Ireland to the US, you pre-clear at Dublin or Shannon but the US authorities sometimes require to interview you further or examine your bags on arrival. In general, most passengers are able to clear without further interview but not all. There’s a wide range of circumstances in which it can be necessary to conduct additional examinations.

    I have driven from Mexico into the US. You have to go through US Border controls on entry to the US. Then 50 miles up the road there’s a secondary checkpoint, to detect folk who may have smuggled goods or people through the first check. Sometimes additional checks are random, sometimes intelligence led. The reasons can vary but surely the reason for them is fairly obvious.
     
  13. Panceltic

    Panceltic Member

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    I was subject to a similar check in Holyhead, arriving from Dublin on the ferry. Due to the CTA there should not normally be such a check, but I appreciate that they can do it whenever/wherever they want.

    Only the passengers who didn't have British or Irish passports were checked though ...

    There was a check on the way there as well (at Dublin Port), although the person looked more like a port employee than an official.
     
  14. duesselmartin

    duesselmartin Member

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    How do they establish nationality? Passport cover?
     
  15. Puppetfinger

    Puppetfinger Member

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    Probably only an ID check with the Ireland - UK ferry. About 18 months ago I took a couple of domestic flights within the UK and on arrival either the Police or UKBF were conducting ID checks on arrival, but a driving license or other Government issued ID could be used instead of a Passport.

    Couple of weeks ago I got off a flight from Norway and for whatever reason UKBF checked all our passports immediately we left the aircraft in addition to the usual checks. Doubt us mere mortals will ever know why exactly, just have to accept it happens and get on with it.
     
  16. AM9

    AM9 Established Member

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    I'm sure that is an issue for many (most) passengers, but everybody has to accept that passing through borders is an activity where government agencies have absolute control over when, how and by which authorised agents checks are performed. The op's assertion that "HMRC should be performing customs checks rather than UKBF, and UKBF really has no business checking tickets (they don't do it at the airport)" is to say the least somewhat churlish, and shows a failure to understand that an element of random checks is part of the strategy to disrupt criminal activity. It is just a part of international travel that we all have to get used to.
     
  17. HowardGWR

    HowardGWR Established Member

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    Nobody has explained to the OP why the two queues were apparently in existence with one manned by UKBF and the other by ES staff. The OP had no idea why he joined one queue as opposed to the other, as he was unable to read the notices. Even if he could have read them, it appears arbitrary what one would have decided. What do the two notices say - does anyone know? Several replies have claimed expertise here, so I await their further replies with interest.
     
  18. transmanche

    transmanche Established Member

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    In the past (early 2000s), when passing through Dún Laoghaire, Irish border officials seemed to be establishing nationality purely by accent. If you sounded British or Irish you went straight through. If you had a different accent, you were asked to show ID.
     
    Last edited: 28 Jan 2020
  19. Panceltic

    Panceltic Member

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    Exactly. A police officer asked everybody to show our passports as we passed through the hall. Those whose passports didn't feature a unicorn or a harp (me included) got directed towards the side where a UKBF officer had a thorough look at our documents.

    He was very apologetic about the whole thing and said he was sorry to interrupt our travel (I didn't really mind because the next train was in 50 minutes anyway), explained that this route is used as a back door for illegal immigration and then asked some questions like why I am coming into the UK and where I live. He seemed very reassured I was legit as soon as I mentioned Aberystwyth, his target public has probably never even heard of it!
     
  20. Elwyn

    Elwyn Member

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    Sometimes it’s important to identify someone as they step off an aircraft rather than at the passport or Customs controls.

    Illegal migrants are told by the agents who fix them up with false documentation to hide in the airside toilets for hours and only approach passport control after a big delay. They are also told to flush any false passports etc down the toilet and to do everything possible to conceal what flight they came in on. This is to cover up the methodology being used, as well as sometimes allowing organizers to get away. Sometimes the organising agent will have travelled with them, retrieved the false documentation from the migrant(s) on board, and would be intent on catching a connecting international flight, thereby avoiding UK border controls, and in the hope that by the time the migrant makes their slow way up to passport control, they’ll be well on their way somewhere else. Obviously if you interview and search them as they step off the inbound flight, you have a good chance of catching both the illegal migrants red handed, as well as sometimes their organisers. And it helps to be able to prove in court where they came from, as well as devoting resources to ensure that route is blocked for the future.

    There are many permutations of this example, and sometimes the issue under investigation is prohibited goods rather than illegal migration but the underlying reason is to tackle some sort of possible abuse that might be harder to resolve if the interviews were conducted at the normal control areas. (And as I say, at most major international airports these days you can do an airside transit without going anywhere near the border controls. So if someone is smuggling and getting an onward flight out of the country, the only way to intercept them is at the aircraft).
     
  21. berneyarms

    berneyarms Established Member

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    CTA provisions only apply to UK and Irish citizens.

    With the exception of visa waiver countries, most other countries require separate visas for Ireland and the UK and as such the immigration authorities do implement spot checks on ferry arrivals for illegal immigrants.
     

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