The United Kingdom (and hence the Republic of Ireland) is not a signatory to the Schengen Agreements or protocols. It therefore had little imput into the direction of Schengen before the Schengen acquis was incorporated into the framework of the EU with the coming into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam on 1 May 1999.
The main reason given by the UK for not being a part of the Schengen group was the importance given to the removal of borders. The political importance given to the maintainance of borders within the UK is conciderably higher than in continental europe. The symbolism of relinquishing border controls is concidered simply too politically contentious.
However, Schengen concerns far more than simply the removal of borders, and the UK has shown its willingness to participate in the 'compensatory' arangements.
Despite securing an opt out regarding Schengen, the UK is allowed, under article 4 of the protocol incorporating Schengen into the TEU, to request to take part in parts or all of the aquis provisions.
Up until the end of April 2000 this situation was hampered by ongoing problems concerning Gibralter. For the UK to successfully request to take part in the parts of the aquis it finds acceptable, the unanimous agreement of the other signatories is required.
The conflict with Spain was overcome in April, removing the threat of veto.
The present government is in favour of the UK's participation in crime prevention, the Schengen Information System and mutual recognition of legal decisions, whilst maintaining passport and border controls.
The Prime Minister insisted there was "no question of us giving up border controls." He added: "We have made clear that we will certainly co-operate more closely within the Schengen arrangements on things like police co-operation, judicial co-operation, tackling things like organised crime and drugs where it is perfectly sensible to do so." Independent 28th March 2000.
The identifyed problem of Schengen is asylum.
Schengen sceptics argue that the looser border controls within the Schengen signatory states has made it easier for asylum seekers to move accross Europe and into the UK.
It is not clear whether this increase (some figures suggest that over 70,000 per annum are entering the country, compared with 4000 ten years ago Telegraph 28th September 1999) is completely due to the Schengen provisions, or simply because of increased organised crime attempts at 'people smuggling', the increase in displaced persons due to the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo or individual weaknesses within European border controls that have little to do with the Schengen Aquis.
"Blair said Britain's special status as an island meant that its borders were also its frontiers with the rest of the world. He pointed out that Britain had different patterns of immigration and, unlike other European countries, did not have national identity cards. The deal with Britain has removed one of the principal obstacles to the summit agreeing a new EU treaty to reform Europe's institutions, paving the way for the accession of countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.Telegraph17th June 1997
This statement highlights one of the fundamental misperceptions of those who argue for the maintaining of Britains borders...the fact that Britain is an island, in the reality of modern travel and movement means very little. Air travel has shifted the emphasis away from simply policing land borders. Something which the UK seems unable to accept.
19th April 2000 statement re The UK, Gibraltar and Schengen from the Foreign Office
For newspaper reports of the UK's stance on Schengen, use the free search facillities at:
The Guardian & Observer
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