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Freedom of Movement in Europe

Comment 18th August 2010

The UK should immediately opt into the Schengen Zone of passport/ID card free travel across most EU countries, Norway and Switzerland. It can do this at any time under the EU treaties.

Why does this matter?

The UK Government unnecessarily and pointlessly restricts our freedom of movement and travel compared to the citizens of most other EU countries as well as Norway and Switzerland by keeping us out of the Schengen Zone. UK Border checks for travellers to Schengen Zone countries waste time, waste public money in £100 millions and cause inconvenience to private and business travellers without in any way demonstrably keeping out illegal immigrants.

In 2008 (according to a Freedom of Information request) a mere 143 persons were refused entry to the UK who arrived from Schengen Zone countries i.e. about one every two days at all UK ports – Heathrow, Dover, Portsmouth, Manchester, the lot. The figures for the preceding 4 years were similar.  There is no logic whatsover in having a passport-free travel zone with tax-havens like the Channels Islands and Isle of Man, which aren't even in the EU or legally part of the United Kingdom, but forcing arrivals from Denmark or the Netherlands to queue up to have their papers checked as if it were in any way comparable to checking Brazilians or Pakistanis for valid visas. Under the EU treaties freedom of movement is guaranteed to all EU citizens and so the UK government has no legal grounds to refuse entry to nationals of other EU countries, except for obvious public safety grounds with terrorists or convicted criminals. This was most recently confirmed by the unfortunate Geert Wilders case, where the UK Government was ruled unable to refuse entry to the Dutchman, however obnoxious his views may be to many people. 

Taking the UK into the passport-less travel zone would be a powerful and practical sign of commitment to freedom of movement without interference by Government. Moreover, UK Border Agency staff would be freed up to concentrate on real abuses of the immigration system from outside Europe. If France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Norway and Sweden can trust their people to travel wherever they want in Schengen without being stopped and questioned, why not us? Why are we forced to be second-class?

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