Britain set to loosen EC passport controls

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A CLEAR signal that Britain is ready to loosen passport checks on people arriving from the European Community has been given by Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary.

Under pressure from the European Commission, Mr Clarke is preparing the ground for 'light touch' checks on passports to comply with the operation of the single market, which guarantees the free movement of people and goods within the Community.

Mr Clarke has been fighting against the removal of the passport checks on EC citizens as part of the single market, which comes into effect on 1 January.

He underlined his reluctance to see the passport checks removed in a written answer slipped out by the Home Office before MPs rose for the Christmas recess. It said: 'Passengers entering the UK from other member states except the Republic of Ireland will continue to be required to present their passports or other national identity documents to the immigration officer for inspection.'

But it added: 'I shall be considering what further changes might be made in the course of 1993 to the UK immigration control arrangements, vis-a-vis other member states of the European Community, in furtherance of our policy of reducing checks on EC nationals to the minimum. . .'

Mr Clarke said the new approach would have to be compatible with effective immigration control on third-country nationals and adequate safeguards against terrorists and serious criminals.

Martin Bangemann, the European commissioner for the internal market, has warned Mr Clarke that Britain would be open to a challenge in the European court, if it persisted with passport controls on EC citizens.

As a compromise, the Home Office is believed to be planning to allow spot checks on passports to replace the checks on all passengers from the EC. But doubts about the legality of such checks may also be tested in the courts.