Although the UK is technically part of Europe (notwithstanding its status as champion doomsayer of the European Union), the British perceive it as a different world. Travel posters all around London lure UK travellers to the continent with images of leaning towers, crumbling wrestling rings, and this simple message – “Visit Europe”. Although immigration borders are barely apparent in the continent, to the point where you can live in one country and work in another (and even get rewarded by tax savings), the British have kept their fences strong and proudly up.
I’m so used to moving around paperless now that I almost forgot to bring my passport for today’s trip from London to Brussels on Eurostar. I wasn’t able to dawdle at Pret-a-Manger and Joules at St Pancras, as security checkpoints and immigration before boarding are rather lengthy. Happily, the train ride makes up for lots of lost time as London-Brussels takes only 2 hours and 10 minutes. French immigration checked my passport and asked absolutely no questions.
The return trip this same evening took more time as the Brussels-Midi Eurostar check-in has two sets of border controls – one Belgian and one British. The Belgians insisted on seeing my Dutch residence card (in addition to my passport) and were uninhibited in questioning. They then ferociously told me to present said card to the British authorities 20 metres beyond. I did this – and the British border guard cackled “What’s this?” as though I had proffered him a suspicious birthday cake. He then quizzed me on what the Belgians were doing these days in terms of checking IDs. Two kiosks, 20 metres apart – quite the border bother.
Back on the train, I learnt from a grungy Guardian newspaper that the Brits are very concerned over trade negotiations with the US as it could allow American firms to bid for national health contracts. Given the dire state of public health services in the UK, wouldn’t British residents stand to benefit from a little healthy competition?