Tuesday, 15 October 2019

The Ignored Common Travel Area




By Willie Drennan

Why is the significance of the Common Travel Area being largely ignored when it is so relevant to the current Brexit debate?

The Common Travel Area is an Agreement, an arrangement between the United Kingdom and Ireland that allows people born in Cork or Killarney to pack their belongings, hop on a boat or plane heading east, or a car or train up north; to live, work and reap the British benefits available in Bristol, Aberdeen or Coleraine.

And it even works exactly the same the other way round: from UK to Ireland. It has been in place for the benefit of British and Irish alike since shortly after the Irish Free State was formed in 1922. It has been regularly updated and improved upon.

It is the CTA that has created the situation today where there are currently more residents of Great Britain who can apply for an Irish passport than there are Irish citizens residing in the Republic of Ireland. It has recently been estimated that there are at least 6 or 7 million GB residents who can hold an Irish passport: they only need to have one grandparent who was born on the Emerald Isle.


One obvious significance of this is that it also means they can hold an EU passport post-Brexit: hence the recent scramble for Irish passports. Once Northern Ireland is added to this mix then we could be talking about 8 to 10 million UK citizens who will still  have the option to live and work in the EU. I haven't heard this debated much recently.  Probably because it's not really much of an issue as a  post-Brexit EU will no doubt welcome all Brits, who love the EU, to continue living working and paying taxes to their central authority in Brussels. The CTA already addresses complex issues regarding rights and the paying of taxes etc.

Understanding the CTA is to also understand what a futile waste of time and life the recent 'Troubles' have been for all concerned. At least for all concerned apart from the few who initiated and fueled the conflict. The CTA means that the relationship between the ROI and NI is the same as the relationship between the ROI and the rest of the UK. The relevance of that is worth pondering further on another occasion.

During the EU Referendum campaign I was also struck that the CTA was seldom used to counter the EU propaganda that Brexit would lead to a hard Irish border and re-stoke tribal conflict. I suspect a large chunk of Northern Irish voters went to the polls believing the hard border story and didn't think too much about the difference between the movement of people and the movement of goods.

While modern technology was the solution to the monitoring of goods, the CTA, and the fact that ROI was also not a member of the EU's Schengen Area, should have been enough to convince people that a post-Brexit hard Irish border was totally unnecessary. Seems like there are quite a few who still do not understand this or don't want to understand it.

The significance of the CTA is also important for other reasons that are being ignored. I believe this Agreement has helped to improve Irish/British relationships over the past century. It has facilitated the settling of a few million Irish people in Britain and their marrying and raising of families: many of whom became more British than the Brits themselves. A look at the family background of many prominent pro-Brexit campaigners in Britain, I believe, would confirm this fact.

To add to this positive British/Irish mixing-up: during the booming Celtic Tiger years many flocked across the sea for work opportunities and the mingling continued with enthusiasm. Anglo-Irish mingling on such a scale has not been experienced in Ireland since the Anglo-Normans arrived in Ireland in the 12th Century. They reportedly became more Irish than the Irish themselves.

The more than one hundred thousand welcomes the Irish people bestowed upon the Queen and members of the Royal Family during recent visits to Ireland, have been the icing on the cake. That cake however has been crumbling due to the Irish political elite standing in solidarity with their EU masters over Brexit. That's my opinion anyway.

Just now though the CTA remains very important as we all wait with bated breath to hear how Boris Johnston is going to square what he whispered in the ear of Leo Varadkar with the totally different thing he whispered in the ear of Arlene Foster. The full significance of the CTA is perhaps not being considered by us British and Irish but its importance has certainly not been overlooked by the brains of Brussels.

I have to confess I have read through most of the proposed Withdrawal Treaty and even read through the Irish Protocol section a few times. I wouldn't recommend it. It's a painful read. The Common Travel Area does get addressed by the EU and my interpretation of Article 5 of that Irish Protocol is that the European Court of Justice would forever have a final say over the CTA. I suppose their rationale is that the CTA would become a legal agreement between the UK and part of the EU.

This is in addition of course to the contentious 'Backstop' which would leave Northern Ireland in a limbo land until such times as it would cave-in and surrender to the EU's central authority. Also worth noting that Theresa's attempt to address the furious response to the 'Backsop',  with her 'Unilateral Declaration' was futile. It was deemed 'not legally binding' by the EU.

I'm no lawyer but the reference to the CTA in the Withdrawal Agreement read to me like another way for the EU and its ECJ to retain some jurisdiction and influence over the internal affairs of the UK. If some legal expert can explain why I am wrong on this I will be relieved. I will be relieved as there does seem a reasonable possibility that Boris's deal with the EU will merely be a camouflaged version of Theresa's deal with the EU.

Whatever happens with Brexit: and whether we consider ourselves British, Irish, or both, we should all be hoping that the Common Travel Area continues to provide mutual benefit without possibility of it being used and abused from out beyond. It's now time for our politicians to stop ignoring its significance.









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