Politics

Huge queues as French customs staff stage Brexit drill for Eurostar at Gare du Nord in Paris



Train services from Paris to London were delayed and there were huge queues today as French customs staff staged “Brexit-style” security checks at the Gare du Nord.

The border officials imposed a “work-to-rule” as they demanded a boost to their workforce to deal with extra checks after the UK quits the European Union.

As passengers and trains were hit by delays of up to two hours, one border guard declared: “This will be what it is like after Brexit. Back to 1970s.”

Customs officials are convinced that clearing passengers for Eurostar services from the French capital will become much harder once Britain leaves the EU.

Transport chaos at the border posts in the Gare du Nord in Paris as customs staff staged a work-to-rule demonstration (Doug Green)

Vincent Thomazo, of France’s UNSA customs union, confirmed that officials were imposing a work to rule today. 

‘We are making sure controls are very strict,’ said Mr Thomazo, who said there was deep concern about how the free flow of people would be hampered by Brexit. 

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The “delays and long queues” proved how customs and security staff were not equipped to cope, he added. 

Trade union bosses insist they “don’t have the resources to cope adequately” with Brexit and wanted “management to see how incredibly difficult our job is going to become”.

Eurostar confirmed that their services leaving the Gare du Nord, their hub in Paris, were disrupted from first thing on Wednesday morning.

Travellers queue at the Gare du Nord in Paris

A spokeswoman said: “Eurostar trains departing Paris today are subject to delays of up to 60 minutes. 

“This is due to passport and security checks, carried out by French customs officers, taking longer than usual. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause our passengers.”

Engineer Doug Green, 61, was travelling on the 13.03 service when he was caught up in the chaos.

He said staff were forcing people to move through just one x-ray machine before being quizzed by customs officials “because they are not happy about Brexit”.

He told the Standard it had caused “massive delays”.

“It took well over an hour to get through customs. They are restricting the flow. There is only one x-ray machine on the go and then customs officers are asking you questions about where you have been, what is in your bag, how much money do you have.

“It is a pain in the arse.”

Stephen Dunbar-Johnson, president of the New York Times Company, was among hundreds caught up in the chaos.

He wrote on Twitter: “Long lines at Gare du Nord for Eurostar passengers as French Doaune [customs officers] conduct a work to rule ‘in preparation of Brexit.

“Three passport controls, only two baggage scanners functioning. Trains severely delayed. A Doaune told me ‘this will be what it is like after Brexit’. Back to the 1970’s.”

Another passenger, Doug Green, wrote:  “Queuing for Eurostar at Gare du Nord as French customs on strike because of Brexit!”

Le Monde journalist Michaël Szadkowski said: “Currently in a chaos in North station to take the Eurostar. Customs officers make a ‘strike of zeal’ to demonstrate the effects of Brexit. 

“The result is that the security checks are reinforced with absurdity… Families have been waiting two hours.”

He joked: “The most critical moment for me: When I heard in the next line a request ‘to spell your last name’.  Fortunately, I only had to declare to the zealous customs officer the number of clothes in my bag.”

Ministers and Brexiteers have sought to play down the risk of chaos at the border after the UK quits the EU, which is due to take place on March 29.

But the action by the border officials highlighted how millions of passengers could face disruption at the whim of union bosses in France.

It was the third day of nationwide French protests, which saw staff demonstrating in Calais, Dunkirk and at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel. This also led to massive queues and delayed services. 

Five French unions have been coordinating the protests, saying they do not have the staff or resources to cope with post-Brexit conditions.

In turn, a statement posted by Eurostar on its website reads: ‘We expect to maintain services on the existing basis, timetable and terms and conditions following Brexit. 

‘We are working closely with our station partners, Governments and border authorities on both sides of the Channel to ensure that robust plans are in place for us to continue to operate in either a deal or ‘no-deal’ scenario.’



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