Home Office U-turn on ID card ban for French school groups

One of the flagship Brexit policies on immigration – banning Europeans from travelling to the UK with only a national identity card – has begun to be quietly reversed.

From January 2024, parties of children from French schools will be allowed to visit the UK using ID cards once again, rather than every child having to have a passport.

The then home secretary, Priti Patel, ended what she called “the use of insecure ID cards for people to enter our country” in October 2021.

Ms Patel said at the time: “We are strengthening our border and delivering on the people’s priority to take back control of our immigration system.”

She said it was imperative to “clamp down on the criminals that seek to enter our country illegally using forged documents”.

The ban disenfranchised more than 200 million European Union citizens, who have national identity cards but not passports, from visiting the UK. It almost wiped out the previously healthy inbound tourism industry from groups of schoolchildren.

The Institute of Tourist Guiding reported an almost total collapse of school group bookings from Europe for summer 2022 compared with pre-Brexit, pre-Covid 2019 numbers: down 99 per cent.

Last year Patricia Yates, chief executive of VisitBritain, told MPs: “You will find destinations like Hastings absolutely decimated by a lack of school visits.”

As schools looked for English-speaking destinations without excessive red tape, Ireland and Malta were the main beneficiaries.

Following a successful trial on the Channel Island of Jersey that was sanctioned by the Home Office and the issue being raised in talks between Rishi Sunak and French president Emmanuel Macron, the announcement came in a written answer from the current home secretary.

James Cleverly said: “We are making changes to allow children aged 18 and under, studying at a school in France, to visit the UK on an organised educational trip without the usual passport or visit visa requirements.

“EU, other EEA and Swiss national children will be able to travel on their national identity card.”

The reversal was welcomed by the chief executive of Brittany Ferries, Christophe Mathieu. He said: “This is excellent news for Brittany Ferries because cultural exchanges are part of our DNA.

“The changes to the rules remove a barrier to travel, making it easier for students to develop and grow. We are delighted that this change will come into effect in time for the Easter and summer seasons next year.”

The nationality of the child is not relevant, as long as they have an acceptable ID card. Non-European children whose nationality normally requires a visa for the UK will be able to travel without a visa, but need a passport rather than an identity card.

All new ID cards issued by EU countries meet the highest international security standards to prevent forgery or amendment.

Travel industry sources have speculated that the U-turn will quickly be extended to all EU school groups. “I can’t see the logic in maintaining the ban on kids from Ostend [in Belgium] when those from Dunkirk can visit without a problem,” said one.