British customs

December 10, 2011

Yesterday at 6.30 in the morning, I had to pass British customs. This activity is routine for me so it shouldn’t be worth writing a blog post about it wasn’t it apart from the extraordinary amount of questions I had to answer and the timing of this happening. I was asked a series of about six questions that started around my Belgian nationality.

My lifestyle requires meeting the British border agency on a regular basis, in some occasions even multiple times in a single day. My Belgian ID card gives me a quick and friendly entrance to the UK. I rarely get any question, even with a rich collection of strong Belgian beers in my luggage.

Less than a couple of hours before my last entry to the UK, David Cameron blocked the new European treaty with veto. It is funny some British press put more emphasis on David’s veto than to the content of the treaty. To my understanding the treaty basically tries to prevent the collapse of the whole European economy, not only the euro countries. The Brits have historically been scared for the European continent, however their leaders understand the UK is part of the wider European economy. With his veto, David tried to defend bankers’ interests and gained more respect from the “great British society”. I am having strong doubts if any one is a winner here.

The day before, the British press was sharp to Belgium because British border staff have faced threats of arrest by Belgian police over the problem with the “Lille loophole”. You can read the full story here, but the following quote is worth a short discussion.

“This has got to stop. You are not in Britain now, you are in Schengen. If they make a complaint you will be arrested.”

I don’t see this as a threat from Belgian police, but rather a signal of companionship. They don’t want to be forced having to arrest their British colleagues.

I must say that my normal greetings with British customs take place at a French ferry port, a Eurostar station or a British airport. This time I entered via the port of Harwich after returning form a genuine one-day business trip to the Netherlands. The standard for this type of trip is to fly and have an overnight in a hotel. I opt for an environmentally friendly mode of transport and took the rail and sail from London to the Hook of Holland via the overnight ferry. This option was more convenient to me because I could stay online and plan meetings along the way. To my own surprise the whole trip was very comfortable, even during “severe weather conditions”.

Was the extraordinary amount of questions I had the first signal of how Britain is drifting away from Europe, was it revenge of the British border staff for the way Belgium blocked their work or did I have the wrong profile at that specific point of entry to the UK? I hope it was just the later. But even if this was the case, it also worries me because it indicates green business travel isn’t considered a genuine travel profile yet.

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