Seven EU countries to scrap border controls

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France, Germany and five other European countries are planning to abolish border checks next month in a move that threatens to make immigration control a new area of controversy between the Government and its Euro-sceptic MPs, writes Colin Brown.

The Schengen group of countries - Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy - have set 25 March as the deadline for abolishing passport controls on their citizens.

Britain has relaxed border controls but refused to abandon checks on EU citizens, despite intense pressure to do so from the European Commission after the single European market established "an area without internal frontiers in which the free movement of goods, person, services and capital is assured".

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, has privately assured colleagues he will resist any attempt to abolish Britain's border controls on EU citizens.

The Commission, however, is insisting article 7a of the Maastricht treaty requires just that. The Government fears a European Court of Justice judgment in a case brought by the European Parliament against the Commission may force it to comply.

The Schengen countries' determination to abolish border checks has alarmed some Euro-sceptic Tory MPs. It is seen as further evidence of the drive by France and Germany towards closer European economic and monetary union.