Former Irish minister: Ending freedom of movement will “undermine the union”

Former Irish justice and defence minister warns that hard Brexit will undermine Irish-UK cooperation

ALAN SHATTER, the former justice, equality and defence minister of the Republic of Ireland (RoI) has said that imposing checks on everyone travelling from Northern Ireland to Britain would “undermine the union.”

He also stated that travelling between the republic and the north could not be restricted as it would violate the Common Travel Area (CTA) which has allowed ease of travel between the UK and RoI for decades.

His comments follow the announcement by the Irish Government of a series of all-island talks and a North-South intergovernmental summit on the economic and security implications of Brexit, as well as a legal challenge from a cross party group in Northern Ireland demanding a parliamentary vote on Brexit.

“Imposing passport travel obligations on everyone travelling from Northern Ireland to Britain would undermine the union.” Alan Shatter

Shatter, who chaired the EU council meetings on security during Ireland’s 2013 presidency of the 28 member bloc said: “A hard Brexit excluding freedom of movement of people could render it impossible to maintain such freedom of movement on our island and between Ireland and Britain. As a member of the EU, our country will continue to keep our borders open to all EU nationals.

“An open border between the Republic and Northern Ireland would undermine any British government policy to prevent EU citizens in the future simply establishing residence, while imposing passport travel obligations on everyone travelling from Northern Ireland to Britain would undermine the union.

“Imposing them on travel between the Republic and the UK would end the Common Travel Area that we have maintained between our two islands and the Republic and Northern Ireland for decades.”

Bilateral trade between the UK and RoI is estimated to be worth between £775m and £1bn each week.

The economies of the UK, NI and RoI are cloesly linked in terms of trade and social capital, with Ireland constituting the UK’s seventh largest export market and Irish exporters increasing their sales in the UK and NI considerably over the past thirty years.

Currently the UK is the RoI’s largest trading partner by a large margin and one third of all Irish imports come from the UK with 16 per cent of all Irish exports destined for the UK.  

Overall, the bilateral trade between the islands is estimated to be worth between £775m and £1bn each week.

With a form of ‘hard Brexit’ with restriction on freedom of movement being discussed by the UK Government as an option, the nature of the UK-Irish border has become a sensitive issue. Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech to the Conservative party conference in Brighton, with its promises to be even tougher on immigration, will have implications for the NI border, with the Irish Government firmly against any restrictions on freedom of movment.

UK ministers such as David Davis have refered to the Common Travel Area (CTA) between Ireland and the UK, in existence since 1923, as a solution to the question of freedom of movement. The UK Government states that the CTA would allow Irish companies and nationals to visit and trade with the UK freely, while also allowing migration to be curbed.

However, the Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny has stated that Brexit would create uncertainty, including in realtion to the CTA, undermining the existing border and disrupting flows of both people and goods between Ireland and the UK.

Picture courtesy of European External Action

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