The Home Office last night dismissed their fears as "nonsense" and insisted that the establishment of a common visa list would not alter Britain's immigration controls.
The alarm was caused by the disclosure that European home affairs ministers will today discuss the format for a common visa. The Home Office stressed that today's talks, being attended by Michael Forsyth, a junior Home Office minister, were limited to the design of the visa. But the Home Office spokesman confirmed that a common visa list of countries for citizens requiring visas to enter the EU would have to be agreed by member states by 1996. Britain has a veto over the list, but after 1996 it will be decided by majority voting.
Sir Teddy Taylor, one of the leading members of the group, said the plan to be put to ministers would be the first step to abandoning Britain's border controls. "Once you get this visa, it is the beginning of the end of our border controls," he said. Nicholas Budgen, another member of the group, said: "We are very disturbed by it. It is most alarming."
The Home Office source denied the common visa would lead to any loosening of Britain's entry requirements. The source denied it would make it easier for non-EU citizens to obtain a visa in an EU country, entitling them to enter Britain with no further checks.
The row, which led to points of order in the Commons, intensified rebel pressure on John Major to strengthen the opt-out Britain has been given in the EU moves towards open borders within Europe. The rebels are pressing the Prime Minister to insist on it being written into the agreement at the 1996 Inter- Governmental Conference.
Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, has insisted that he will use the veto if there is any attempt to press Britain to abandon border controls.
The Tory rebels believe Britain will be forced by the European Court of Justice to drop the internal checks at ports and airports as part of the single market, set up under the Single European Act and signed by Baroness Thatcher.
The rebels were angered that a debate on a select committee report on the borders' controversy has been delayed by Tony Newton, the Leader of the House. They warned that MPs were being denied the opportunity to protest before the first step was taken at today's meeting of ministers.