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Brexit and Northern Ireland – A brief history

This series of briefings sets out the impact of Brexit on the immigration rules governing Northern Ireland, Great Britain and The Republic of Ireland.

The ability of EU nationals to move freely between the UK and the other EU member states, and vice-versa, is central to the Brexit negotiations. In the following series of briefings, we explore the unique situation caused by the geographic proximity and the complex history of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Although a great many changes lie on the horizon, all parties so far have suggested that the rules governing immigration between these three states should be maintained within the spirit of what is currently in place. In the first of our briefings, we set the scene by providing a brief summary of the key events in Northern Irish, Irish and British history that define current immigration status:

Brief history

1801 Act of Union: Ireland became part of the UK
1846 In the wake of the Irish famine, the Irish were the first mass-immigrants to the UK.[1] They were often used as cheap labour to supplement the national workforce during the great industrial revolution. For this original purpose, Irish citizens were not legally labelled as ‘aliens’ from an immigration perspective.
1916 Easter Rising: An armed insurrection by Irish Republicans to end British rule in Ireland. This event and the British reaction to it, led to significant popular support for Irish independence.
1922 Anglo-Irish Treaty: Led to the partition of Ireland – it established the Irish Free State as a Dominion of the British Commonwealth, Six counties remained part of the UK as Northern Ireland. Establishment of the Common Travel Area. The Irish Civil War began.
1937 Irish Free State ended and the new independent State of Ireland was established
1948 Republic of Ireland Act: Ireland officially became a Republic
British Nationality Act: Removed British citizenship from certain residents of the Republic which threatened peace.
1949 Ireland Act: resolved some of the issues caused by the British Nationality Act and gave Irish citizens a similar status to Commonwealth citizens in the United Kingdom, notwithstanding that they had ceased to be such.
1960s/70s The ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland: War between Irish Nationalists/Republicans and Unionists
1973 Ireland became a member of the EEC (at the same time as the UK)
1980s/90s Peace process
1998 Good Friday Agreement signed. It set out the status and system of government of Northern Ireland within the UK and the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Crucially, it gave the people of Northern Ireland a right to choose to hold Irish or British citizenship, or both.

To read the full Brexit and Northern Ireland series, click here.

For more information or advice about immigration, please contact:

Angharad Birch
Trainee Solicitor
T. 020 7227 7270

[1] Understanding Immigration and Refugee Policy, Contradictions and Continuities, Rosemary Sales, The Policy Press, University of Bristol, 2007, page 130

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