EUROSTAR passengers are still able to board Britain-bound trains without showing their passport despite the Daily Mail exposing a shocking loophole that can be exploited by terrorists and criminals.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd yesterday said the investigation had uncovered ‘very serious’ flaws and pledged to tackle the problem.
Ministers said ‘immediate action’ would be taken to prevent criminals and jihadists – including fighters returning from Syria and Iraq – travelling to the UK on the train service without identification checks.
Following the Mail’s revelations, the Home Office said it was putting in place increased ticket checks at Euro-star terminals, including in London.
But Eurostar was refusing to make sure passengers who boarded the critical 5.56pm service without identification in Brussels with a ticket to Lille in France could not simply stay on when it headed on to London.
The loophole meant anyone could arrive in the centre of London without a passport for as little as £2.60. Our reporter exposed the lapse by purchasing an ‘abonnement’ – a monthly commuter ticket – for £240.
This allows passengers to travel on all services, including the busy 5.56pm service where the security system keeping those travelling to Lille in a cordoned-off carriage is abandoned.
This raised concerns that terrorists could exploit the Schengen Agreement which allows passport-free travel across EU countries. Britain is not signed up to the Agreement.
Miss Rudd told the Commons: ‘It is a very serious matter and we are taking forward immediate actions this week to ensure that it doesn’t happen and will be having conversations both with the UK Border Force and Eurostar to ensure certainty.’
In a statement, the Home Office said the Government was ‘committed to ensuring that all necessary measures are taken to protect the security of our border’.
A spokesman said: ‘It is the responsibility of Eurostar to ensure all UK-bound passengers are presented to UK authorities at the border. It would appear the operator has not adhered to the pre-agreed, robust processes we have in place.
‘As a result, we have taken immediate action to introduce additional checks in locations including Brussels, Lille and St Pancras stations, while this issue is resolved.’
Despite the Mail’s revelations, Eurostar yesterday refused to offer a solution and said it would not be changing its inspection policies.
A spokesman said: ‘We operate under Home Office legislation. If the legislation changes, we will operate in the way agreed.
‘When you [the Mail] travelled it was in accordance with the agreement set up. If that changes, we will change.’ A whistleblower, who has worked for the service for a decade, added: ‘We were made more aware of the problem when we had the issues with migrants and the terrorist attacks in Brussels and France.
‘Where the train was too busy, they stopped booking Lille-only passengers on one coach. It’s not just the 5.56 service, it’s sometimes three or four Brussels to London via Lille trains on weekday afternoons and evenings.’
Tory MP Charlie Elphicke, who represents Dover, accused Euro-star and the UK Border Force of ‘putting profits before protection’.
He said: ‘We thought the loophole had been closed in six years ago, so it is critical it is sorted out this time and for good.’
Lord Paddick, the Lib Dem home affairs spokesman and a former top Metropolitan Police officer, said: ‘It is disgusting the Home Secretary says the Border Force are doing their job when they clearly aren’t.’
Conservative MP Philip Hollobone said: ‘In my view this service should be suspended until Euro-star can demonstrate that they are meeting in full Britain’s entry requirments.
‘There is no excuse for this loophole not to be closed. It leaves Britain open to a security threat and could be seen as an open goal for terrorists and criminals wanting to target the country.’-Daily Mail.