Keeping our European passes
Brexit may well free us from the constraints of the EU Firearms Directive but will we also lose our hugely helpful European Firearms Pass? Graham Downing hopes not
On any weekend during the school holidays, the forecourt of Dover’s cross-channel ferryport would have been bumper to bumper with cars and caravans. On a wet Wednesday in november, it was deserted. As I drove slowly towards the waiting car ferry, I was an easy target for the uniformed figure ahead. “We’re not police, we’re not customs, we’re port security,” he explained. “We’re only looking for one thing: weapons. Do you have any weapons?”
“Well, as a matter of fact, yes,” I answered. “I’ve got a 12-bore shotgun, a hunting rifle and 200 rounds of ammunition.” His jaw dropped: nobody had ever answered “yes” before. I paused for effect. “And I’ve got a shotgun certificate, a firearm certificate, a French hunting licence and a European Firearms Pass.”
“Y-you’d b-better come this way, S-sir,” he stammered.
I showed my paperwork to his colleagues in the Portakabin. Everything was in order, though the document that most impressed them was my European Firearms Pass (EFP). Printed in all the languages of the then EU member states, it demonstrated my authority to cross any European border with my guns for the purpose of hunting or target shooting.
That was 20 years ago, and since then many more of us have developed a taste for hunting in continental Europe, whether it be for driven boar in Poland, Spanish partridges or Baltic moose. In consequence, the EFP has become almost as essential as our passports. Before it, crossing international borders with firearms required a confusing cocktail of costly import permits and local licences, all of which had to be applied for weeks in advance, invariably by a local resident. The EFP changed all that by offering a standardised international firearms passport.
Take eastern Europe. My first boarhunting trip to Lithuania was soon after its independence. Before EU accession, the postsoviet documentation required to carry my rifle through the port of Klaipėda was clearly calculated to support the country’s burgeoning paper-manufacturing industry. The paper trail had to be completed in triplicate, accompanied by payment of large amounts of local currency and excruciating waits in dreary customs halls. Unless you had someone in uniform on your side, you got nowhere.
Contrast that with a recent moose-hunting trip to Estonia, where transit through Tallinn’s modern, Eu-funded airport was a breeze. A quick peek at my EFP, a check of the serial number of my rifle and I was greeting my host in the arrivals hall almost as quickly as my bag was off the carousel.
Whichever side of the Brexit argument you are on, there can be no doubt that for the shooting community, the EFP has been a game changer. Along with Eurotunnel and low-cost airlines, it has revolutionised sporting travel for Brits heading to the Continent as well as for the guests we invite to shoot here in return. Admittedly, unlike most other EU countries, Britain requires foreign nationals to hold a UK Visitor’s Permit in order to bring a gun to these shores, but provided that they can email us a scan of an EFP issued by their own national authorities, the issue of a permit by the police in this country is a simple matter. And that, for the hundreds of UK sporting estates that rely on the income provided by visiting European hunters, is a lifeline.
So what will happen in the post-brexit world? If we are to be freed from the shackles of the EU Firearms Directive, then will we also lose the benefits it brings – such as our precious firearms passport? Quite possibly. There appears to be little appetite in police circles for maintaining it: when the matter was discussed last autumn by the national Firearms and Explosives Licensing Working Group, the police decided that they would be “happy to lose this provision”. Summarising the discussion, Assistant Chief Constable Dave Orford, the Group’s chairman, noted that the EFP “is not something we would fight for”.
FACE UK, our national branch of the EU Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation, thinks otherwise. It is rightly calling for policies to protect the ability for shooters to travel in the EU after Brexit without additional bureaucracy or cost. I can think of a simple such policy: retain the EFP. There appears to be no reason why Britain should not do so, even after leaving the EU. Other non-eu countries, such as Iceland, issue EFPS to their hunters and sport shooters. When I invited an Icelandic friend to shoot here last season, his EFP was recognised automatically by the British police. He was issued with a Visitor’s Permit and his journey was hassle-free. Likewise, I have used my EFP to travel to non-eu countries. Colour it dark blue and emblazon it with the Royal arms on the front page if you must but please let’s keep it. And let us ensure that the UK authorities continue to recognise in return the EFPS issued by other countries.
We must make quite clear to ministers as they formulate Britain’s future relationship with the rest of Europe that we wish to continue travelling freely for our sport and, moreover, that we require the same courtesy to be extended to our European guests. There can be no return to the dark ages.
Along with Eurotunnel and cheap airlines, the EFP has revolutionised sporting travel for Brits