Better late than never? First Eurostar crosses new Brexit border

Eurostar chief Philippe Moully speaks during an interview with an AFP reporter alongside the international high-speed Eurostar train from Paris, at St Pancras International railway station in London, on Feb 1, 2020. PHOTO: AFP
Passengers board the last Eurostar train before Brexit at Gare du Nord train station in Paris on Jan 31, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - At around 8.50am British time on Saturday (4.50pm Singapore time), a Eurostar train emerging from the Channel Tunnel became the first from the continental connection service to leave EU territory.

It was a small, symbolic milestone in the Brexit process which has no immediate impact on passengers aboard the Paris to London service - but one which nonetheless creates some trepidation of what lies down the line.

"I've spent a lot of time being angry," said Alex Adotevi, a German businessman in an impeccable white shirt, seated in one of the carriages.

"If I want to go back with my family it will be an administrative burden, I'll have to get a work permit," he feared, noting he has two children who are British citizens.

Several hours earlier in Paris, passengers passed through check-in and security as if Britain had not left the European Union at midnight on Friday.

Little has changed because Britain is now in an 11-month transition period negotiated as part of its divorce.

"I was worried about the long queues for passport controls. So I came several hours early, but in the end it was very calm," Tamara Jacobsen, a Romanian married to a Dane who lives in Paris, told AFP.

"For us, I think it will not change much. But for the British, I think it will hurt from an economic point of view," she said while waiting for the train to leave.

The service soon rolled north from the French capital, far from full.

"It's the Brexit effect!" joked Bruno, who was serving customers food and drinks.


Until at least the end of the year, Europeans and their British counterparts will still be able to travel visa-free across the Channel, with the EU's so-called freedom of movement rules maintained during the transition period.

Brussels and London are yet to agree on arrangements beyond Dec 31, with 11 months of tough negotiations anticipated on all aspects of the future relationship.

Unrelated but ill-timed, Eurostar was plagued by problems on Saturday, as engineering works and a "points failure" prompted long delays and the cancellation of at least five trains.

French tourists bound for Britain seemed relaxed about the changes looming.

"As long as we can continue to travel easily, Brexit does not change much for us," said Melodie, in her twenties and travelling with her family.

Olivier, on board with his two young children, had taken some precautions, however.

"We were told that nothing was changing. We still made passports for the whole family, just in case," he explained.

Eurostar, which operates 15 daily connections from Paris to London and 31 between continental Europe and the British capital, insisted everything was operating normally.

"Our DNA is to transport people between Great Britain and the continent," said Philippe Mouly, its director of operations.

"Of course we are a little sad, but operationally we made sure that everything remains as fluid as possible.

"Nothing has changed since yesterday... the immigration systems are the same, as are the ticket rules," he added.


Some passengers aboard the early service from Paris were even seeing the silver linings in Brexit and the possible economic perils it could hold for Britain.

"If property prices fall, it may be worth investing in the UK," said Jean-Yves Foret, thirty-something project manager.

Others wondered how the Eurostar terminus at London's grand Saint Pancras station will be impacted once the transition ends.

"We will have to see after December 31 how it will happen," Cyril, a French expat living in the British capital, told AFP.

"Will there be special lines for passport control for British residents?" he wondered, before wandering off in a brief window of sunshine.

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