After Brexit: French customs and Eurotunnel confident of ‘smooth’ traffic

French customs officials and Eurotunnel said Tuesday that they were confident of maintaining a smooth flow of traffic through the Channel Tunnel at Calais after Britain leaves the EU, as they conducted a joint dress rehearsal for Brexit.

After Brexit:  French customs and Eurotunnel confident of 'smooth' traffic
Photo: AFP

During the rehearsal, trucks crossing into France from the British side had the bar codes of their customs declarations scanned by a Eurotunnel agent, a formality that will become systematic once Brexit takes place.

“We are confident of our capacity to assure the smooth flow (of traffic) through the terminal, just like today,” Eurotunnel spokeswoman Anne-Laure Descleves told AFP in Calais, the transport hub on the French side of the tunnel.

Eurotunnel runs the shuttle trains that take vehicles through the Channel Tunnel between Calais and the English port of Folkestone.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged his country will leave the EU on October 31 — with or without a divorce deal with the bloc — though many analysts regard this as far from certain.

Descleves said the key task was to make clear to transporters that they had to fill out a customs declaration online in advance in order to obtain the bar code and complete the customs formalities.

Once the code is scanned, the contents of the load being transported will appear in the systems of French customs agents, who can the decide whether to carry out additional checks or a search.

Capacity at the terminal has also been expanded to stave off the threat of heavy queues among the 5,000 heavy goods vehicles which cross through the tunnel each day.

“The Channel Tunnel will not be a traffic bottleneck,” Descleves said.

The regional director for French customs, Eric Meunier, also said he was confident his teams were ready after some two years of preparations.

“The 'digital border' is something that has been complex but that finally works today. This is what we are testing with drills. So we are confident because we are very prepared,” he said.

Despite the preparations, however, some truck drivers are still bracing themselves for long queues.

“It's going to be a lot of waiting, a lot of checks, a lot of waiting on both sides — thousands of trucks, queues, hours of waiting,” said Steven Meurin, a truck driver for the RDV company.

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Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.