UK-Irish post Brexit relations

Malta assumes the presidency of the EU at the start of 2017. Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, in setting out his priorities, has said the ‘Irish Border’ Issue must be settled before Brexit talks can begin in earnest, injecting some urgency given that talks are expected  to get underway in April next year.

Helpfully, the House of Lords EU select committee published a report this week titled Brexit: UK-Irish Relations. The report notes the special ties between the UK and Ireland and the friendship that has developed as the Northern Ireland peace process has advanced. Also noting that Ireland’s common membership of the EU has been one of the foundations of this close relationship.

The report draws attention to: the serious economic implications of Brexit for Ireland, North and South; the consequences for the Irish land border of potential restrictions to the free movement of goods and people; the
implications for the Common Travel Area (CTA) and for the special status of UK and Irish citizens in each other’s countries, including the right of people born in Northern Ireland to Irish (and therefore EU) citizenship; the potential impact on political stability in Northern Ireland; and the challenge to the
institutional structure for North-South cooperation on the island of Ireland, and East-West relations between the UK and Ireland, established under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

The Lords recommend the negotiation of a bilateral agreement to be agreed by EU partners. Key objectives of any bilateral negotiation should include: maintenance of the current open land border between the UK and Ireland, as well as of the ease of movement across the sea boundary between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK; maintenance of the current Common Travel Area arrangements, and the right of free movement of UK and Irish citizens between the jurisdictions; maintenance of the right of UK and Irish citizens to reside and work in each other’s countries; the retention of rights to Irish (and therefore EU) citizenship for the people of Northern Ireland; in the event that the UK leaves the customs union, a customs and trade arrangement between the two countries, subject to the agreement of the EU institutions and Member States; acceptance of the Northern Ireland Executive’s right to exercise devolved powers in making decisions about the free movement of EU workers within its jurisdiction; reaffirmation by both governments of their commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements, including continued support for existing cross-border cooperation; and continued eligibility for cross-border projects to EU funding programmes.

The Irish border issue has been raised at Prime Minister’s questions and the Northern Ireland Executive’s First Minister Arlene Foster attempted to address the issue in a recent BBC hardtalk interview. The NI secretary, James Brokenshire, has floated a suggestion of moving UK immigration checks to Dublin, but there appears to be little progress as of yet in addressing the practicalities if withdrawal from the Customs Union. If the Malta PM stands by his position, then our government ministers will need to get cracking with resolving the position on these issues.

* Joe Bourke is an accountant and university lecturer, Chair of ALTER, and Chair of Hounslow Liberal Democrats.

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  • Joseph Bourke 15th Dec '16 - 1:11pm


    the Irish Times have interviewed members of the committee; and their comments echo your conclusion.

    “…any agreement to allow an open Border to remain will have to be agreed by all the other EU member states. That’s not a given,” the committee’s chairman, Tim Boswell, said.

    The report concludes that it will be impossible to maintain the open Border if Britain leaves the EU’s customs union, so an innovative solution will have to be found. Michael Jay, a former British diplomat who is a member of the committee, told The Irish Times that if Britain does leave the customs union, the question of what kind of Border checks would be imposed between North and South would become a very serious issue.

    The report suggests that the only ways to retain the current open Border in its entirety would be either for the UK to remain in the customs union or for the EU to agree to a bilateral UK-Irish agreement on trade and customs.

    Given the EU’s exclusive competence to negotiate trade agreements with third countries, such an arrangement would be unprecedented.
    “They’re going to have to work out something which has never been done before.
    “So there’s going to have to be quite a lot, I suspect, of thinking outside the box, of thinking about solutions which don’t fit into the way the EU has evolved but solutions which need to be found,” Lord Jay said.

  • “thinking outside the box”
    Northern Ireland- A special member state territory of the EU.

  • Joseph Bourke 15th Dec '16 - 3:06pm


    the idea of a special status region for NI was defeated by a narrow vote of the NI assembly back in October with the split being mainly along Unionist/Nationalist party lines

    However, at a subsequent All-Island Civic dialogue on Brexit, the new leader of the Alliance party, Naomi Long, told those gathered that her party would support campaigning for a special deal for Northern Ireland.

    “We would obviously prefer a soft Brexit, or indeed no Brexit at all, but we also need to confront the notion of a one size fits all Brexit, and in this regard we do support consideration of some sort of special status for Northern Ireland,” she said.

    “What is meant by that needs to be developed over the coming weeks and months by governments, political parties, the business community, academia and civil society.

    “It could see Northern Ireland as a region remaining inside the European Union or outside with some form of special recognition, a full spectrum of detailed options and scenarios should be considered.”

    SDLP leader Colum Eastwood supported the Alliance position:

    “We haven’t given our consent to leave the European Union, that’s why we have to fight tooth and nail to protect the people of Northern Ireland – the 56% who voted to remain within the European Union,” he said.

    “Theresa May said that she’s arguing every day for a bespoke deal for Britain, well we need a bespoke deal for Northern Ireland, we need to protect the freedom of our citizens around this island and within the European Union.”

  • Manfarang does have a point. If N.Ireland really wants to remain in the EU there are real possibilities open to it that revolve around coming to an arrangement with the RoI… Not saying it would be without challenges …

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Dec '16 - 8:19pm

    A very full and somewhat didactic and exact article , very welcome for that as it is informative .

    We need to make far more as a party of our links with the terrific Alliance Party of Northern Ireland , establishing joint discussion and policy areas re; NI wherever possible .

    The relationship with both sides of the border needs the sort of moderate and humanitarian stance the APNI have at their core.

    All the more relevant as Corbyn defies belief and appoints a recent SinnFein senior member of their London team to his own ! Great for the SDLP , let alone most of the British electorate , I think very definitely not ?!

  • Steve Comer 16th Dec '16 - 6:28pm

    Interesting comments from Taoiseach Endy Kenny today on British/Irish relations and the whole vexed question of article 50:

    “Mr Kenny added that “until it becomes clear what sort of relationship the UK actually wants to have with the future European Union, it’s then you can make the decisions and negotiate on those decisions after Article 50 is triggered.”

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