Returning from Brussels on my customary trek last week, I did something a bit silly. Probably driven by exhaustion. And my chronic impatience with authority figures. Especially when I think they’re strutting their feathers to feed their narcissism.
The backdrop. When arriving at St Pancras station from the continent, UK Border Police sometimes asks to see your passport and ticket. Apparently this is due to the Lille loophole. Someone with a Brussels-Lille ticket could conceivably stay on the train past Lille and enter the UK illegally, if they are a non-EU citizen and are unentitled to be in the UK.
I have never understood why they ask EU citizens to show their tickets. EU citizens have a right to be in the UK even if only bearing a Brussels-Lille ticket. Surely Eurostar, not the border police, should care whether you have the right ticket (I assume?)
Hence why I always ask why they want to see my ticket, given that I am an EU citizen. Answers have varied from “I don’t know” to “it’s the Lille loophole” to “the UK has a strict asylum policy” to “I can tell you, but I’d have to kill you” (best reply ever). Clearly none of these answers are satisfactory (apart from the latter, clearly). I suppose the honest answer would be “I have no idea what countries are in the EU so I had best check all tickets and passports.”
Here’s what happened to me last week:
- Border Police (BP): Can I see your ticket?
- Me: Sorry but why do you need to see my ticket?
- BP: IF I ASK YOU TO SHOW ME YOUR TICKET, SHOW ME YOUR TICKET. SHOW ME YOUR TICKET!
- Me: But why. I’m a Danish citizen; I believe I’m entitled to be here, why do you need to see my ticket?
- BP: SHOW ME YOUR TICKET NOW!
- Me: But why? You’re wasting everyone’s time by asking EU citizens to show their tickets.
- BP: OK, TAKE A SEAT OVER THERE (pointing at bench).
- Me: (Thinking, shit, I should have showed him my ticket). OK then, here’s my ticket.
- BP: TOO LATE! (Changes mind about me sitting down). Come with me. (We step behind booth). What do you think this is (signals room around us)?
- Me: Um…
- BP: It’s a border! Why do you think I’m asking for your ticket?
- Me: Because you want to show us ghastly foreigners and Daily Mail readers that you mean business? (Immediate regret, clearly).
- BP: (Fuming). COME WITH ME! (Takes me to baggage checking area by exits, which is empty. Asks a colleague to observe. Puts on rubber gloves).
- Me: (Oh dear).
- BP: Is this your bag?
- Me: (Phew). Yes. (BP proceeds to open it, slowly removes everything. Looks through all pockets. Looks through all books. Runs weird gadget along inside lining then puts it in machine, which then beeps lots. This takes ages. He snarls at me. I assume he was beaten as a child, has self-esteem issues etc. and really wants to teach me a lesson. I worry a bit).
- BP: Give me your passport. (Looks through passport – slowly). Do you travel a lot?
- Me: Yes.
- BP: Have you ever been arrested or stopped by us?
- Me: No.
- BP: Wait here. (Leaves me waiting for 15-20 minutes with other officer near me).
- Me: (Crap).
- BP: (Smiling, hands me back my passport). OK now listen. If you’d shown me your ticket and THEN asked me why I was checking your ticket I would have told you. Your manner was suspicious. I see all sorts in my line of work, so I had to check. But you’re fine to go. In future, just do as we ask!
- Me: I’m sorry, I appreciate I may have come across as rude. I have lived here for a long time and am annoyed with the growing anti-immigrant, anti-Europe nonsense, and I assumed tough border checks were part of all that.
- BP: Not at all, you’re very welcome in the UK (smiles, shakes my hand, pats me on the back).
Why the volte-face?
Was he first strutting his feathers because I dared to question him – but then having sensed that he’d made me suitably uncomfortable, felt he’d won? Had I truly been suspicious? I look more like a choirboy than a crack dealer, and surely a crack dealer with a bag full of gear would have shown their ticket pronto.
Who knows. In any case, lesson learned. Count to 10 next time. It’s probably not a Daily Mail inspired conspiracy. More likely, they’re instructed to check tickets due to the Lille loophole. And given that they can’t be expected to know all EU member states, they’re told to check ALL tickets.