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UK bars more than 200 million EU citizens who have ID cards but no passports


For Europeans hoping to travel to Britain, a Brexit promise to end the right for EU citizens to use their national identity cards to travel to the UK has taken effect from 1 October. These are the key questions and answers.

What has changed?

More than 200 million Europeans can no longer visit the UK – unless they get passports. The government says: “You will not be able to use an EU, EEA or Swiss national ID card to enter the UK from 1 October 2021”.

Any exceptions?

Until the end of 2025 there will be a few exemptions, notably for people who have “settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme”, or those who have applied to it or have an EU Settlement Scheme family permit.

British citizens can continue to use a Gibraltar identity card to travel to the UK.

Ireland issues a “passport card” but not a national identity card. Irish citizens are not required to carry passports between the republic and the UK, though some airlines demand them.

Why the change?

It reflects a long-standing Brexit promise. During the referendum on EU membership, a key Vote Leave campaign message was: “In a world with so many new threats it’s safer to control our own borders and decide for ourselves who comes into this country, not be overruled by EU judges.”

In a speech on her “New Plan for Immigration” in May 2021, the home secretary, Priti Patel, said: “This year, we will end the use of insecure ID cards for people to enter our country.”

How dodgy are the EU’s identity cards?

In the past, some European Union nations issued laminated identity cards that were relatively easy to forge or tamper with.

But since August 2021 all new ID cards issued by EU countries must follow a common pattern. They comply with the highest security standards, as prescribed by the UN International Civil Aviation Organization, which requires them to be machine readable and to contain a microchip with the holder’s details. They are extremely difficult to forge or change.

The government in Berlin says: “Germany’s national identity card meets the highest requirements for document security. Its tough security features offer a high level of protection for the data and digital photograph stored on the chip.

“Card holders may also choose to store two fingerprints on the chip as well. In this way, the electronic identity card can be used as a secure travel document.”

We need passports to go to Europe, so surely it’s only fair?

Many people feel that way. But using ID cards for travel is a long-standing option that means many Europeans do not have passports.

While the UK was part of the European Union, it was one of only a handful of countries which did not issue ID cards.

EU citizens – and those of the wider European Economic Area plus Switzerland – may travel to all European countries except the UK on their national identity cards.

In addition citizens of some EU nations, including France, Germany, Italy and Portugal, can use ID cards to visit Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey.

The fear is that prospective visitors will be deterred by the need to get  passport for travel only to the UK.

The effect is likely to be drastic for hotels, tourist attractions, restaurants and other enterprises that have previously had a lot of EU visitors. As well as European tourists and people visiting friends and family, business travellers may also be deterred.

Airlines, ferry firms and international train operators will also suffer from a loss of demand.

Surely we can get tourists from elsewhere?

That could be tricky. The move comes after the UK was revealed as the major European country with the greatest collapse in inbound tourism.

In July and August 2021, just 14 per cent of the visitor numbers for the corresponding months in 2019 arrived.

Joss Croft, chief executive of the industry body, UKinbound, said: “Pre-pandemic the UK’s inbound tourism industry was the jewel in our crown.

“Today the industry sits in tatters, desperate to rebuild but facing barrier upon barrier as it tries to recover.”

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