Photo by CardMapr.nl on Unsplash
Having cancelled five national conferences because of Covid and then the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the UK Liberal Democrats finally took to the stage last week. Leader Sir Ed Davey’s speech met with strong applause, but when he delivered the line “If you want to boost our economy, you have to repair our broken relationship with Europe,” the audience rose to their feet with a lengthy standing ovation. They must have been reading the EU Political Report.
There were no specific proposals, so I would like to offer one suggestion which would be a Win/Win for the UK and the EU. The subject is Identity Cards, but this is not a recommendation for the UK to introduce them although a YouGov poll in 2018 showed that a majority of voters were in favour.
From October 2021 Conservative Home Secretary Priti Patel unilaterally banned all prospective EU visitors to the UK from using their Identity Cards to gain entry to the country. She said: “By ending the use of insecure ID cards we are strengthening our border and delivering on the people’s priority to take back control of our immigration system”. The Government argued that in the previous year almost half of all false documents detected at the border were EU, EEA or Swiss ID cards, but chose to draw precisely the wrong conclusion.
It was true that early EU Identity Cards were potentially easy to falsify, but such forgeries were equally easy to detect. Passport fraud was much more difficult to identify and so never appeared in the statistics. Meanwhile since August 2021 all new ID cards issued by EU countries comply with the highest security standards, as prescribed by the UN International Civil Aviation Organisation, being microchipped and machine readable so any perceived fraud issue is now history.
Significantly there was one Identity Card which was exempt from the ban, namely the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar – which used the same technology as the EU. This suggests that the real reason for the ban was to pander to the hard-line anti-EU obsessives dominating party policy, providing them with an easy win and showing seriousness in “taking back control”. It turned out to be yet another policy of further self-inflicted harm on the UK while the overall immigration system remains uncontrolled..
There was one immediate and major consequence Priti Patel had not anticipated: the effective restriction on many EU citizens from visiting the UK. Some 200 million Europeans can no longer come – unless they pay for a passport. Given that they can enjoy easy access to so many other countries using their EU/EEA Identity Cards most of them may not bother.
Organisations in Normandy co-ordinating twinning visits to towns and cities in the UK were amongst the first to flag the problem. Their local newspaper La Presse de la Manche commented: “The fear is that several members of the French twinning committees, who only have an identity card and no passport, are not necessarily ready to spend 86 Euros for a weekend a year”. The committees campaigned for a waiver, but the UK Government was not interested.
EU students faced an identical problem. The European Street News reported that the German Federation of School Trip Organisers (Bundesverband führender Schulfahrtenveranstalter) had written to the UK Government and to MPs warning them that school trips to the UK were now in jeopardy. Federation President Ingo Dobbert said that the new ruling would be an issue for groups travelling under a limited budget as they would now be “forced to choose other European destinations”.
In 2019 around 7,000 groups, comprising a total of 250,000 students, took part in school trips from Germany to England, Scotland and Wales, adding up to 1.5 million overnight stays. The Financial Times has added that some 10,000 groups, around half a million students, had also travelled from France to the UK each year.
Statista Research has identified that the contribution to GDP of the UK tourism industry has been worth over £130bn, providing jobs for some 4m British workers. As UK tourism struggles to recover from Covid we need more visitors, not fewer – yet our own Government policies have brought about the largest collapse in tourism of any major European country. Writing in The Independent two years ago Joss Croft, Chief Executive of the tourism industry body UKinbound, said: “Today the industry sits in tatters, desperate to rebuild but facing barrier upon barrier as it tried to recover”.
The solution is obvious: remove the illogical ban on EU/EA Identity Cards. But the PM does not dare to upset his extremists by getting closer to the EU and Labour is too timid to raise the issue. Enter the Liberal Democrats as the party of common sense. Time to put the cards on the table.
One thought on “Time to Bin the Ban”
I have never understood the fear of ID cards in UK. They are prevalent across Europe. I lived in Hong Kong where possession of a HKID was a treasured one, giving rights to live, work, and vote there. Ah, now I see! The real reason for denying ID cards is that everyone would have a photo ID and everyone could vote including all those pesky liberal millennials, and those too poor to drive a car. Time to bin the ban in UK.