Tuesday 19 March 2019

Special deal agreed for Irish living in the UK after Brexit, but Government has no plan to avoid hard border

Micheál Martin. Picture: PA
Micheál Martin. Picture: PA

Donal O'Donovan, Cormac McQuinn and Ralph Riegel

Irish people in Britain will still be able to access healthcare, benefits and education despite mounting fears that a no-deal Brexit is looming.

The UK government last night set out fresh guidance on rights under the Common Travel Area (CTA) between Ireland and Britain.

Meanwhile, the Irish Government still has no plan for how a hard Border can be avoided in Ireland in a crash-out Brexit scenario.

That's despite Tánaiste Simon Coveney publishing a raft of other emergency legislation including measures to protect cross-Border healthcare and transport.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin last night issued a warning to the Government that it's time for "honesty" on the impact a no-deal Brexit would have on the border.

Mr Coveney announced details of the 'Omnibus Bill' for a worst-case scenario Brexit saying such a scenario would be a "lose, lose, lose" situation for Ireland, Britain and the EU. He said he still doesn't believe a no-deal Brexit will happen but "we have to plan for it just in case."

However, on avoiding a hard border if there is a crash-out Brexit Mr Coveney said the government would have to work with the British government and the EU "to figure out a way of doing that".

He said the State would insist that any discussions would not result in Border infrastructure and would "argue very strongly" for regulatory alignment similar to the proposals in the current backstop.

Opposition to the backstop is the main stumbling block for British Prime Minister Theresa May getting her deal with the EU through the House of Commons.

Speaking ahead of his party's Ard Fheis, Fianna Fáil leader Mr Martin demanded clarity from the Government on how it will avoid a hard Border if the Brexit deal fails.

"I've asked that question now repeatedly and I haven't got an answer to it," he said.

He accepted there were negotiations happening and the Government may not want to show all its cards.

"On the other hand we are getting very close to March 29. There comes a time when there has to be some honesty in terms of what the actual implications of a no-deal are in terms of the Border."

Labour's Brendan Howlin also criticised the government asking: "Why is the Tánaiste only now talking about contingency planning for the Border?"

He claimed it was "not credible" that the Government did not already have a detailed plan for what they want to do in a no-deal scenario.

A Government spokesman last night reiterated its position: "Perhaps members of the Opposition would like us to be planning for a Border but that's not something the Government is contemplating."

The Department of Foreign Affairs said avoiding a hard border was "the Government's priority in all circumstances".

Separately, the CTA that underpins the reciprocal rights for Irish and British citizens in both jurisdictions will be copper-fasted ahead of Brexit both governments confirmed.

This means there there will be no restrictions living and working in both countries regardless of what agreement is reached between Britain and the EU.

It covers almost every aspect of life from shared access to each others' health, education and housing systems, to voting rights, social welfare and pensions and recognition of professional qualifications.

However, the rights will no longer extend to the spouse or other family members of Irish people living in the UK, after Brexit, according to an official notice published by the UK's Brexit Department yesterday.

"The arrangements for existing close family members [who are not Irish citizens or British citizens] to remain in the UK with, or join EU citizens resident in the UK in future, are not provided for by the CTA arrangements but rather under the draft Withdrawal Agreement," it said.

It means family members of Irish citizens who want to stay in the UK after Brexit, or plan to move there in future, will be required to apply for a status under the UK's controversial EU Settlement Scheme.

The scheme has prompted controversy during an initial pilot scheme, as often elderly and long-standing residents have been forced to apply to stay in Britain, despite in some cases having married and raised families there decades ago.

According to the UK government, family members of Irish citizens who do apply will be accepted as eligible for legal residence once they provide evidence of the Irish citizen's identity and nationality, their relationship to the Irish citizen and proof of UK residence before December 31, 2020.

Irish Independent

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