AT A GLANCE: legalities and limitations

Is Brussels trying to make Britain remove passport controls?

Yes. Although the Commission is not taking any specific action at the moment, legislation is likely this year. But it won't necessarily succeed.

Why is legislation on the cards?

Because the single market, which we agreed to in 1985, is supposed to remove all borders between countries, creating a frontier-free Europe. The Single Act was supposed to lead to the freedom of movement of goods, services, capital, and - crucially - people.

The key section of European law, Article 7a of the EU treaty, says so. That bit of the treaty has been law for nearly a decade. It is supposed to allow free movement around the Union for all EU citizens - though not (at the moment) for immigrants from outside the EU.

So has Britain signed away the right to border controls?

Not as far as the Government is concerned. When the heads of government agreed that bit of the treaty in 1985, they (including Mrs Thatcher) added a rider. It said that the agreement would not affect a government's right to control immigrants from countries outside the EU. This "general declaration" was tacked on to the end of the Single European Act. It is not an opt- out, because it applies to everyone and because it is interpreting the treaty, not saying that the treaty doesn't have to be obeyed.

Why is Charles Wardle so worked up then?

Because he thinks the "general declaration" is not worth the paper it's written on. The European Commission certainly believes it does not change the treaty's requirement that internal border controls should cease, for immigrants, as well as EU citizens. Mr Wardle wanted the general declaration turned into a cast-iron legal guarantee next year, when the EU rewrites its treaties. John Major says it isn't necessary, because the declaration holds good.

Who's right?

Both, probably. The "general declaration" appears to have little legal value; even some British officials admit that there is a big legal question mark hanging over it. On the other hand, if the Commission introduces legislation this year to take away border controls, as is likely, Britain could veto it - and might get support from some other states.

So there's no problem?

Not yet. The twist is that the European Parliament - which wants border controls to go - has taken legal action to make the Commission act. There could even be a legal case in the European Court of Justice to make Britain comply with the no-border rules. But it isn't certain that the court could rule on a case like this, and it isn't certain that it would decide against Britain even if it did, and the whole process would take years, by which time there could be a political fix.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee