THE UK’s minister for Europe has issued a stark warning that an independent Scotland may need passport controls at its border with England.
David Lidington said Scotland would not necessarily inherit the UK’s opt-out of a European Union agreement that permits freedom of movement around most of Europe and means EU citizens are still subject to passport checks at UK borders.
However, a spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond dismissed the claims as “demonstrably untrue” and “scaremongering”.
Mr Lidington suggested EU rules introduced following the signing of the Lisbon Treaty would compel an independent Scotland to enter a Europe-wide, border-free zone.
As the UK has opted out of this zone – known as the Schengen area – the Westminster government would be forced to establish passport controls between Scotland and England.
Mr Lidington, who was at Holyrood’s European and external relations committee yesterday, said Scotland would not necessarily inherit the UK’s opt-out of the Schengen Agreement and would have to negotiate its own terms.
Speaking at a post-committee briefing, he said opt-outs such as those on the Schengen agreement and the euro “require not just a bilateral agreement between the UK and an independent Scotland – it would require the agreement of all of the other member states as well”.
Mr Salmond’s spokesman insisted the arrangements for passport controls would be unchanged under independence. He said: “As legal, constitutional and European experts have confirmed, the reality is that Scotland is part of the territory of the European Union and the people of Scotland are citizens of the EU – there is no provision for either of these circumstances to change upon independence, and the rest of the UK will be in exactly the same position.
“We will both be successor states, with exactly the same status within the EU.
“All of these tired old scare stories are demonstrably untrue – they are insulting to Scotland, and the only effect they are having is to boost support for independence.”
The spokesman went on: “An independent Scotland will also inherit the Common Travel Area which exists between the UK and Ireland, rendering claims of passport controls ridiculous.
“It is in the interests of the UK government to stop scaremongering on these issues, because their silly claims are rebounding back on them.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie seized on Mr Lidington’s claims to warn the restrictions could affect the “ease of travel between” Scotland and England.
Attacking the SNP pledge that independence would not cause great disruption to UK-based residents, he said: “Passport controls between England and Scotland would have a significant impact on the ease of travel between our two nations. This would have an impact on business and personal relations.”
Mr Lidington also said Scotland’s membership of the EU was not “something that can simply be assumed” and he repeated his warning that border controls with England would be a “clear problem” under independence. He said: “The fact the UK has an opt-out from Schengen means we are able to maintain the border controls that you don’t have on the borders between Schengen countries.
“Logically, if Scotland were in Schengen, every Schengen country has to dismantle border checks with other Schengen countries, and have border checks with other EU states that are outside Schengen.
“That is why, for example, if I fly to Munich from London, I have to go through a passport check before I can transit to a plane connecting to Poland.
“So there’s a logic in the way that Schengen is organised, and that is a clear problem that Scotland would have to face up to.
“Membership is something which requires the unanimous agreement of every other member state. The United Kingdom is a member of the European Union. We have our accession treaty. We are a signatory to it and are bound by European law.
“Now, I can see quite see that if Scotland wanted to leave the UK – and I hope she doesn’t – she would probably want to be in the European Union. But that is something that would have to be negotiated and would require the agreement of every member.
“There’s no precedent for a country or region breaking away from an existing EU member state and becoming independent. Anything that touches on membership has to have unanimous agreement.”