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

The Field - - Opening Shots Comment -

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

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