What does leaving the EU mean for border controls?

Published: 28th Jun 2016

This briefing is largely based on the briefing by the House of Commons Library ‘EU referendum: impact of an EU exit in key UK policy areas’. The opinions and judgements it contains are theirs. We expect to review and add to these articles periodically as events develop.

As it is not part of the Schengen (border free) area, the UK already has its own border controls. Border Force officers conduct checks on EU/EEA travellers at UK ports of entry, as well as British citizens and non-EU/EEA nationals. That is not the same as saying we can turn EU/EEA citizens away, if they have valid passports, or that we can control the overall level of EU immigration.

There has been some speculation that the UK leaving the EU will mean an end to the border control agreements with France, and consequently, an increase in cross-Channel irregular migration flows.

But, opinions on this are mixed. The border control arrangements are the result of agreements between the UK and France rather than EU law. That said, the Mayor of Calais has said that she wants to renegotiate these rules. There are certain circumstances in which the rules could be terminated, if France or the UK wanted to.

The UK might lose access to some sources of information which support border security processes. UK law enforcement agencies—including some border control staff—currently have access to parts of the Schengen Information System database (SIS-II) which gives access to real-time information about wanted or missing people, public security threats, and missing or stolen property. This might be included in negotiations as the EEA countries and Switzerland all have full access to SIS-II as they are part of the Schengen Area.

The UK has opted in to EU laws on collecting passenger data from those arriving from outside the EU. The House of Commons Library says that the government is likely to be keen to ensure that access to this information continues once the UK leaves the EU.

The Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland also means that the land border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland could become a weak spot in the UK’s ability to control EU/EEA immigration.

Regardless of what happens in the UK, EU free movement law will continue to apply in the Republic of Ireland. Some Irish commentators have warned that border and passport controls at the land border would be an inevitable consequence of Brexit.

If there are changes to the immigration entitlements of EU citizens then this will have a knock on effect on the workload and resources required for the UK’s border agencies.


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