Wednesday 13 December 2017

Northern Ireland border no risk to British immigration policy says ambassador

Dan Mulhall
Dan Mulhall
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

An open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic post Brexit wouldn’t pose a risk to Britain in terms of immigration, Ireland’s ambassador to London has said.

Addressing the House of Lords EU Select Committee, Dan Mulhall said any effort to control the free movement of people on the island, or between Britain and Ireland, would be “very damaging”.

“Even under a worst case scenario, that Britain decided to prevent all EU Citizens from coming to live and work in the UK, it seems to me that the Irish border doesn’t really pose a particular additional risk to Britain of the kind that would warrant trying to imposed border controls on a border that doesn’t have any geographical basis very much, unlike borders in other parts of Europe,” Mr Mulhall said today.

The House of Lords Committee is conducting an inquiry into the impact on the relationship between the UK and Ireland following the vote on June 23 by UK citizens to leave the European Union.

The inquiry is looking at the impact on the Common Travel Area, trade relationships, the border, and the rights of Irish citizens in the UK. It held its first public meeting this afternoon, and will also hear evidence in Belfast and Dublin next month.

Mr Mulhall said that as long as Ireland remains outside of Schengen, people coming into Ireland need to go through passport control.

“Therefore, the only people that will have the right of free movement into Ireland, the right to live and work, will be European Union citizens. Of course, it’s true that an EU citizen could come to Ireland after Brexit, and then decide to go across the border into Northern Ireland and then into Britain.

“But they would be illegal immigrants, and most Europeans are not interested in being illegal in any European country.

“It doesn’t seem to me that the Irish border provides any greater challenge for anybody here [in the UK] and I don’t think there’s any great risk that that border will be abused in the future."

The ambassador also said that the Irish government does not underestimate the level of "disquiet" felt by many people in the north at the prospect of losing their connection to the EU.

He said a hard border needed to be avoided.

"If the UK does leave the EU, Northern Ireland will be in the unique position whereby almost all of its residents will be entitled to citizenship of an EU country, Ireland, and we must be alert to the particular circumstances of those Irish and EU citizens who will find themselves in a situation where they will be citizens of a European Union country, but they will be resident outside of the European Union," the ambassador said.

He added that the best arrangement for Ireland in a post-Brexit environment would be keeping the status quo.

Mr Mulhall also stressed that Irish officials have been in close contact with their British counterparts, and that there was an understanding across Europe of the sensitivities around Northern Ireland.

European Council President Donald Tusk will be in Dublin tomorrow for talks with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, while Mr Mulhall told the Committee that the UK’s Brexit Minister, David Davis, would be here on Thursday.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Theresa May said Mr Davis was expressing his own view when he said it’s unlikely the UK would remain in the European Union’s single market if that meant ceding control over immigration.

Mr Davis told politicians yesterday, with the government focused on reducing immigration, it’s “very improbable” the UK would stay in the single market if doing so meant it couldn’t police migration flows.

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