Brexit and Northern Ireland – The impact of Brexit

Looking at the statistics, we can place the special relationship between NI-GB and the Republic of Ireland in context:

  • There are 310 miles of border between Northern Ireland and the Republic
  • Up to 30,000 commuters cross the border every day
  • An estimated 20,000 people come to work on the British mainland from the Irish Republic every year[1]

It is clear that if immigration at these volumes were to be curtailed, it would have a significant economic and social impact.

The impact of Brexit

There will likely be a significant change to EU nationals’ (citizens of the Republic of Ireland) free movement rights in the UK.

Post-Brexit, Northern Ireland would be the closest geographical border between the EU and the UK, with Ireland remaining a Member State. Under normal circumstances, with the UK not being a party to the Schengen agreement, this would necessitate passport checks at the border at a minimum.

Some have expressed the fear that, if additional measures are not put in place, Northern Ireland could become a back door into the UK for immigrants.

For Ireland, the supranational free movement laws of the EU constitutionally trump any national treaties governing movement of peoples, namely the CTA for our purposes. In addition:

‘Under EU law, any future relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the UK would be subject to agreement not only with the Republic of Ireland, but with the whole of the EU.’[2]

Thus, although the CTA predates the UK and the Republic of Ireland’s entry into the EU (or EEC, as it was known in 1973), its retention post-Brexit would depend on the agreement of the other Member States.

It is worth bearing in mind that the Irish Republic’s government views Brexit as bad for Britain, for Europe and for Ireland. It is committed to remaining part of the EU. Nevertheless, it has no wish to prejudice the foundations of the peace process and its close relationship with Britain.

Due to Ireland’s tumultuous history, politicians on all sides are keen not to prejudice the security brought about by the Good Friday Agreement, which could be threatened by any variation in the special relationship between the Republic and Northern Ireland. For this reason, the border question has been placed at the top of the Brexit negotiations agenda.

For an explanation of the current position and the likely changes post-Brexit, please read our briefings: ‘Preserving the Common Travel Area’ and ‘How will it work?’

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

For more information or advice about immigration, please contact:

Angharad Birch
Trainee Solicitor
T. 020 7227 7270
E. angharad.birch@rlb-law.com

[1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4786642/Theresa-offer-free-movement-UK-Ireland.html
[2] Professor Dagmar Schiek, Jean Monnet Chair of EU Law and Policy at Queens University Belfast, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Northern Ireland and the EU referendum, 26 May 2016, HC 48 2016-17

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