Britain could shift itsr frontline immigration controls to Irish ports and airports in a bid to avoid a “hard border” being created with the state when Britain leaves the European Union (EU), a government minister has suggested.
Britain and Ireland have enjoyed a Common Travel Area (CTA) whereby citizens of both nations are able to travel freely between the two, since the 1920s.
However, Ireland as an EU member state must abide by European freedom of movement rules, potentially opening an Irish back door into the UK unless a hard border is reinstated – a move which some believe would breach the Good Friday agreement. Yet not doing so would undermine the claim that leaving the EU would enable Britain to take back control of her borders.
To get around the problem, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has suggested that Britain could work with Ireland to strengthen her external borders to combat illegal immigration once Britain withdraws from the EU. The two countries already collect passenger information from those passing through customs; it is envisaged that the information would be shared freely between the two.
Speaking to The Guardian, he said “We have put in place a range of measures to further combat illegal migration working closely with the Irish government.
“Our focus is to strengthen the external border of the common travel area, building on the strong collaboration with our Irish partners.”
There is a precedent for the two counties working together on immigration: currently, the citizens of 16 countries including China and India can apply for a visa which grants them access to both countries. It has been suggested that this could be extended.
Mr. Brokenshire said: “We are already working closely with the Irish government and other members of the common travel area to prevent people from seeking to evade UK immigration controls from entering via another part of the CTA.
“There is a high level of collaboration on a joint programme of work. This includes investment in border procedures; increased data sharing to inform immigration and border security decisions; passenger data systems enabling the collection and processing of advance passenger information; and harmonised visa processes.”
The scheme would leave the UK vulnerable to EU immigration as EU citizens would still have the right to travel freely into Ireland to live and work if they so wished. This raises the possibility of EU citizens using Ireland as a springboard to move to the UK.
But Dan Mulhall, the Irish ambassador to Britain, has dismissed this as an issue. He recently told the House of Lords: “For as long as Ireland is not part of Schengen [The EU’s borderless zone], everyone coming into Ireland from continental Europe and beyond has to go through passport control at our airports and ports.
“Therefore, the only people who will have the right of free movement into Ireland and the right to live, work, visit and settle in Ireland will be European Union citizens.
“It is, of course, true that an EU citizen could come to Ireland after Brexit, settle in Ireland and then decide to go across the border to Northern Ireland and then to Britain, but they would be illegal immigrants. As I understand, most Europeans are not interested in being illegal in any European country It seems to me that only a relatively small number of European Union citizens would want to come to the UK illegally.”
A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May commented: “The open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic has undoubtedly served both people and businesses extremely well.
“There is a very strong commitment between the UK government and the Northern Ireland executive to see that remains the case, that there is no return to the borders of the past.
“Work is ongoing to strengthen that relationship in the future.”