Border controls to stay, says Home Office

The Government denied yesterday that Britain's border controls would be dismantled under its plans for closer co-operation with other European Union countries on immigration policy.

Downing Street said the Government had "no plans" to remove checks on people entering Britain from Europe by joining the Schengen Agreement on "open borders" within the EU.

William Hague, the Tory leader, challenged Tony Blair in the Commons about a report in The Independent yesterday that the Government was considering ending its opt-out from Schengen in an attempt to curb the number of asylum seekers coming into Britain. "This would cause great alarm and be a very serious policy mistake," Mr Hague said.

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."

Some pro-EU ministers believe Britain should eventually become full members of Schengen. "I don't think we should say never," said one government source. But ministers are expected to delay a formal review of the opt-out policy until after the general election, expected in just over a year.

Barbara Roche, the Home Office minister responsible for immigration and asylum, said in Brussels yesterday that borders would remain under Britain's control.

Asked if she meant that a Labour government would never join the full Schengen system, she replied: "Yes".