Given Britain’s desire to maintain its own border controls, it will not join the EU’s passport-free ‘Schengen’ area in the foreseeable future. Ireland also has to stay out because it shares a common travel area with the UK.
But there is now mounting evidence that this situation hurts tourism and businesses in Britain and Ireland. Non-European travellers can move freely between Schengen countries with a single visa, and many skip the further hassle of getting visas to visit Britain or Ireland. Already the Schengen area has an agreement to facilitate Chinese group tourism, which is growing fast, and from which the UK and Ireland are excluded.
This problem could be overcome if Britain, Ireland and the Schengen countries would agree on ‘mutual recognition’ of the visas they issue, without the UK or Ireland having to scrap their border controls.
Michael Emerson is an Associate Senior Research Fellow at CEPS.