What would it be like to cross the border into England if Scotland left the UK?
Nicola Sturgeon said this week she had the answer:
“Scotland will remain in the Common Travel Area with the rest of the UK and Ireland. This means that any discussion of passports to visit relatives in England is complete nonsense. The free movement of people across our islands will continue as before.
But legal experts – and the Scottish government itself – agree that these issues would still have to be negotiated as part of a Scottish exit deal.
We’ll take a look.
What is the Common Travel Zone?
The Common Travel Area (CTA) is a set of arrangements between the UK, Ireland and certain Crown dependencies (Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man).
It allows British and Irish citizens to live and move freely between the two countries. It is not set out in a single treaty, but evolved after Ireland gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1922.
Would an independent Scotland be in the common travel area?
The CTA covers the territory and people of Scotland, but does not treat Scotland as a separate entity as it is currently part of the United Kingdom.
Should Scotland become independent, the terms of passage to what remained of the UK would have to be negotiated as part of an exit deal with Westminster.
In a article published this week setting out the arguments for independence, the Scottish government recognizes this. It says: “As an independent country and a member of the EU, Scotland would make arrangements for its border with the UK based on EU law and a negotiated agreement with the UK. .”
Later, the newspaper said that “it would make sense to all parties” if the CTA agreements covering Ireland were to “apply to Scotland in the event of independence”.
In other words, whether or not Scotland is part of the CTA – or other “arrangements” that replicate the CTA – is still being debated, despite comments from the Prime Minister this week.
Now, it’s very likely that the UK wants to keep the journey across the Anglo-Scottish border as easy as possible.
FactCheck spoke to Professors Nicola McEwan and Katy Hayward from the UK as part of a Changing Europe network at King’s College London.
“There is no indication that Scotland would be prevented from remaining in the Common Travel Area after independence,” they told us in a joint statement.
“Scotland stays in [the CTA] would be in the interest of both parties.
But they also noted that, “as with all border issues, it takes two sides to keep a border open or soft and only one side to harden it.”
“So […] the Scottish government could not decide unilaterally to stay inside the CTA, but another government could decide unilaterally to effectively exclude Scotland from it.
Although they stressed that “the negative consequence of such action would affect all parties”.
Would passports be required at the Scotland-England border?
The Scottish government says an independent Scotland would like to join the EU. New EU member states are required to sign the Schengen Agreement.
On paper, this means removing border controls between Scotland and the other 26 EU members – as well as forcing Scotland to control the flow of people across the border into the UK, because this latter is no longer part of the trading bloc.
A recent The UK in a report on changing Europe explains: “So if Scotland joined the Schengen area, it would imply the need for passport checks between Scotland and its nearest neighbour.”
“However,” the authors continue, “given its unique geographical and historical circumstances, specifically the existence of the Common Travel Area (CTA), most experts assume that Scotland would most likely request and obtain a derogation from border control elements of the Schengen agreement during negotiations for accession to the European Union.
However, as Professor Imelda Maher of University College Dublin told FactCheck, there would still be “a bit of negotiation needed if Scotland wanted to pull out of Schengen and have something like the CTA”.
Professors McEwan and Hayward told FactCheck: “We are as confident as possible that in the event of independence there would be [be] no passport control requirements at the Anglo-Scottish border.
Again, it’s likely Scotland would be able to secure passport-free movement with England – but not guaranteed until deals are struck with the EU and UK.
Would free movement “continue as before”?
If an independent Scotland also manages to join the EU, it would create a new outer border for the trading bloc in the middle of the British Isles.
And it should be emphasized that the CTA only applies to citizens of the countries that are part of it.
So even if Scotland joined the CTA, the arrangement would only cover UK, Irish and Scottish nationals.
Unless Scotland manages to negotiate additional conditions, this would mean that people from other EU countries and the rest of the world wishing to cross the Anglo-Scottish border could face new constraints or red tape. .
Professor Colin Murray of Newcastle University told FactCheck: “Just as with the NI/Ireland Brexit land border post, […] travel authorizations or visas will be required for non-CTA citizens.
He notes that “the UK government has already legislated to introduce [Electronic Travel Authorisations] which should apply at border crossings into Ireland for non-CTA citizens from next year.
So while the Scottish Government does not want to introduce any new requirements for citizens beyond the CTA area crossing the border, it cannot control what the UK Government might do.
Scotland’s Minister for Europe, Neil Gray, told FactCheck via a spokesperson:
“The economy paper clearly sets out proposals for Scotland to join the EU while remaining in the Common Travel Area (CTA). Ireland is both an EU member state and part of of the CTA – this is a long-standing agreement recognized in the EU Treaties.
“Scotland will remain in the CTA because it makes sense for all parties. The rights to travel, live, work and access services would be protected and continue for British and Irish citizens in Scotland, and for citizens of an independent Scotland in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
“Becoming an independent country and joining the EU would guarantee the free movement of people and goods to the 27 EU member states.”
Nicola Sturgeon said this week that an independent Scotland ‘will remain in the Common Travel Area’, there will be no passport control to enter England and the free movement of people ‘will continue as before’ .
Given the political, economic and practical implications, it is likely that the UK, Ireland and Scotland would agree to Scotland participating in the Common Travel Area after independence, which should facilitate travel to across the Anglo-Scottish border. But, despite the Prime Minister’s words, this is not guaranteed and would require negotiation with all parties. Scotland cannot decide this unilaterally.
Similarly, Scots are very likely not to be subject to passport checks when passing through England – but again this would have to be agreed as part of an exit deal and so it is not not something the Prime Minister can yet guarantee.
Whether the free movement of people will continue as before is complicated by the Scottish government’s ambition to see Scotland join the EU. It is possible that people crossing the Anglo-Scottish border who are not citizens of either country will need to complete travel documents, just as the UK government is about to require non-UK or Irish citizens crossing the Irish border.
Ultimately, Scotland will have to negotiate all of these issues if it gains independence from the UK. As with the Brexit negotiations, all parties will have to make compromises.
Scotland’s Minister for Europe told FactCheck: “Scotland will stay in the CTA because it makes sense for all parties.”