TERRORISTS and criminals can travel to Britain on the Eurostar without any form of identification, a Daily Mail investigation reveals.
The extraordinary flaw in our border security means anyone can arrive in the heart of London without a passport for as little as £2.60 – the price of a cup of coffee.
The shocking loophole takes advantage of the open-borders Schengen Agreement that allows people to travel across Europe without showing a passport.
Britain is not part of the agreement and travellers are expected to show passports when they board the Eurostar to come here. But the loophole allows passengers to board the Eurostar without identification in Brussels with a ticket to the French city of Lille – and to simply remain on the train when it heads to London.
Journalists from this newspaper repeatedly took advantage of the ‘Lille loophole’ last week and travelled between Brussels and London without a single check.
Experts last night reacted with horror to the lax regime, with one MP labelling it the country’s ‘soft underbelly for terrorism’.
A former Scotland Yard chief called for the ‘completely unacceptable’ lapse to be ‘urgently addressed’ by the authorities.
The ‘Lille loophole’ was supposedly closed after it was revealed in 2011 that 330 migrants tried to use it to reach the country in just 18 months.The Border Agency has no figures for the number caught since because it insists the route is closed and the journey ‘cannot be done’ without a passport. That’s because Eurostar is supposed to ensure all passengers due to disembark at Lille are placed in a single carriage and there are restrictions on who can buy a commuter ticket.But this newspaper launched an investigation after a whistleblower complained that the security procedures fell down during busy commuter hours. Journalists were able to travel between Brussels and London twice in one week using a simple ruse.Concern about Europe’s border-free zone has grown ever since the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels, which revealed how known extremists were able to cross borders with few or no checks.By buying a monthly ‘abonnement’ commuter ticket for frequent travel between Brussels and Lille, the journalists were allowed to travel on Eurostar at any time. This meant they could book tickets for peak services where officials abandoned the one-carriage security measure because they are so busy.The £240 pass can be paid for in cash, with a hotel address and false personal details easily left on a form. Every journey bought using the commuter pass costs just £2.60.In theory, terrorists or people-smugglers could use the pass to buy tickets every day to send people into Britain. One commuter said: ‘There is absolutely no security on the peak service. There is never a passport check in Brussels. In more than 200 trips on the Eurostar to London, I have only been asked to show my passport about five times.’ Lib Dem MP John Pugh said: ‘This loophole threatens our national security. It is the soft underbelly for terrorism. The Government are wasting billions are intrusive surveillance but won’t guard our borders. This puts all of us at risk.‘The Government have slashed the Border Force and this risks our security and allows smugglers and traffickers a way into Britain.’ Lord Paddick, a former top Metropolitan Police officer, added: ‘This is an extremely worrying lapse in security that must be urgently addressed. There is supposed to be a secure border between France and the UK and for anyone to cross it unchecked and without documentation is completely unacceptable.’ Chris Phillips, former head of the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, said: ‘Hardened terrorists coming back from the likes of Syria and Iraq are likely to have some money and an ability to travel. This just goes to show the difficulties with the Schengen Agreement. Why would migrants spend thousands of pounds on people smugglers when they can just buy a ticket to Lille?’ Retired Met Police officer Chris Hobbs said the loophole was ‘typical of the slapdash approach to border control that we have seen so often by the Home Office’. Eurostar and the UK Border Agency insisted the ‘Lille loophole’ was closed following the publicity it received in 2011. In 2010, 14 migrants were caught. In the first six months of 2011, a further 80 were held. In the second half of that year, 240 suspected migrants attempted the trip. The Border Force’s budget was slashed by £120million in just three years – from £617million in 2012-13 to £497million in 2015-16. Some MPs want EU citizens visiting Britain post-Brexit to pay £10 for a visa waiver to boost the agency’s finances by £250million a year. Eurostar said last night: ‘Immigration requirements are defined and controlled by the relevant authorities in each country that we operate in, and we work very closely with these authorities to ensure that our services operate within their legislation. For passengers travelling between Brussels and Lille, the authorities have put a special arrangement in place. ‘This allows Brussels-Lille passengers to travel in a separate coach controlled by security guards, who then ensure that all of these passengers disembark at Lille before the train goes on to the UK. ‘For the 5.56pm train, which is the most popular commuter service, the border authorities have chosen to operate a slightly different process whereby the train is only bookable by season-ticket holders who do not have to travel in a separate coach. This was agreed because they are a defined group with ID and contact details checked when buying their season ticket. ‘In addition, the UK border authorities regularly undertake random immigration checks on arrival at London St Pancras.’The Home Office said: ‘Passengers boarding in Brussels travelling to the UK all go through border controls in Brussels.’ Both insisted that all passengers buying a season ticket were required to present identification. -Daily Mail.