Thursday, 1 March 2018

Brexit, Borders and Common Travel Area

by Willie Drennan

Why is nobody talking about The Common Travel Area?

The debate around Brexit rages on with much focus once again on Ireland. There are cries that Brexit is a threat to the Belfast Agreement (Good Friday Agreement) and even to peace, as they claim a hard border is inevitable.

Prior to the Referendum many politicians and commentators and politicians explained that a hard border across Ireland would not be necessary, primarily because of the Common Travel Area that was set up in 1923 between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

On the issue of customs, should the EU insist on imposing tariffs, the various technological methods that can be used to monitor transfer of goods are also well documented. So in other words the UK government sees no need for a hard border in Ireland.

The threat of a hard border is clearly being used by the EU, Irish political elite and diehard Remainers as part of their concentrated attempt to stop Brexit.

Their latest claim is that Brexit will wreck the Good Friday Agreement. What people outside Ireland may not realise is that the GFA is already in big trouble: the Stormont Assembly has collapsed as the mandatory coalition is not working. This Agreement needs revisited and appropriately adjusted regardless of Brexit.

The concept and essence of GFA however is not threatened by Brexit per se but by the EU and those Remainers who now are basically saying Northern Ireland must stay in EU to avoid a hard border in Ireland. The hard border, they say, would then need to be out in the Irish Sea between Ireland and Great Britain. Good luck in building that. We might need to engage Donald Trump for that task.

I don’t see any remote chance of the UK or the people of Northern Ireland accepting this. If it did happen the GFA would become redundant.

It is not a consideration for Northern Irish business as the vast majority of their trade is with Britain. No, this is not really on the cards even if the EU continues to pursue the potential break-up of the UK. This is about EU devotees trying to make Brexit so difficult that the UK will change its mind.

Another indirect connection with Brexit is that since the GFA anyone in Northern Ireland can claim Irish, as well as British, citizenship and acquire an Irish passport. So, technically anyone in Northern Ireland could still claim to be a member of the EU after Brexit.

This will probably become the next Irish related issue for the EU. But, what is much more significant is that millions of people in Great Britain can also obtain an Irish passport if one of their grandparents was born in the Republic of Ireland. This has come about as a result of the Common Travel Area which has allowed ‘settled status’ for Irish citizens in the UK. We are talking about several million British people who can have an Irish passport.

This anomaly, like the other anomalies, can be sorted but we can begin to see the relevance of the Common Travel Area agreement in the Brexit negotiations.

In reality if the EU continues with it’s determination to punish the UK over Brexit then the smooth flow of people and trade between UK and ROI is going to require much cooperation and collaboration between the two states. As both states are not part of the EU’s Schengen Agreement, which allows open borders within the EU, then this should not really be all that challenging if the will is there.

If instead the ROI leaders continue to give devoted support to the EU, in the current negotiations and beyond, the current harmonious relationship with the UK will be in jeopardy. Ireland has become a pawn in the EU's game. 

Things could deteriorate to the extent that even the Common Travel Area Agreement would have to be revisited and amended. This could become necessary for reasons of trade, movement of people and security regardless of where the hard border might be.

This is a scenario that could initiate a negative knock-on effect across Britain and Europe: but of course it would be the people on the island of Ireland who would feel the brunt of the dire economic and social consequence. The elite political leaders, and their media, who are heading us down this road need to wise up.

No one in government or in the media seems to be addressing the full relevance of the Common Travel Area as yet. Perhaps the rest of us should?

Better still, why don’t the EU bosses simply allow a mutually beneficial tariff-free trade deal with the UK? That would solve the main difficulties instantly.

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