UK should resolve post-Brexit rights of Irish citizens - watchdog

Equality official urges UK to be ‘open and transparent’ in assessing rights for Northern Irish

Theresa May promised on a visit to Belfast in February to review the concerns of Irish citizens in Northern Ireland about how British immigration rules treat their rights to be Irish under the 1998 Belfast Agreement.  Photograph: Getty Images

Theresa May promised on a visit to Belfast in February to review the concerns of Irish citizens in Northern Ireland about how British immigration rules treat their rights to be Irish under the 1998 Belfast Agreement. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Northern Ireland’s chief human rights commissioner has called on the UK to conduct an “open and transparent” examination of the post-Brexit rights of Northern Ireland-born Irish citizens.

Les Allamby, chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, was reacting to the British government’s admission last week that it was not carrying out a “formal review” into the citizenship rights of people in Northern Ireland after Brexit, despite Theresa May pledging to review them.

The UK prime minister promised on a visit to Belfast in February to review the concerns of Irish citizens in Northern Ireland about how British immigration rules treat their rights to be Irish under the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

However, UK immigration minister Caroline Nokes said in a parliamentary reply last week that UK home secretary Sajid Javid was considering the issues raised by Mrs May, but there was no formal review being undertaken.

“The prime minister asked the home secretary to work with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to review the issues, not to conduct a formal review,” said Ms Nokes.

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The reply came as immigration rights campaigners in Northern Ireland had sought details of the terms of reference and timeframe for the review amid concerns about the impact of new UK immigration rules.

The concerns come to light from the case taken by Co Derry woman Emma DeSouza, an Irish citizen who is fighting a protracted appeals process with the UK Home Office for residency for her US-born husband.

Ms DeSouza raised concerns about last month’s updated immigration rules, arguing that they could mean a loss of some rights after Brexit and undermine the right to be Irish under the peace agreement.

Immigration rules

Mr Allamby said that regardless of how the UK government looks at the issues, the examination should address concerns raised by the new UK immigration rules and the matters highlighted by Ms DeSouza.

“It should be open and transparent, and should seek to effectively resolve the outstanding issues identified in the Emma DeSouza case along with dealing comprehensively with the issues, which are both related to Brexit and those which arise under domestic immigration law,” he said.

The rules set eligibility for a settlement scheme to allow EU citizens stay in the UK after Brexit.

Irish citizens from the Republic of Ireland can apply for the scheme if they wish, whereas Northern Ireland-born Irish citizens are ineligible because they are considered dual Irish-British citizens by the UK.

The UK government considers anyone born in Northern Ireland to be automatically British by birth and dual Irish-British citizens, if they claim to be Irish.

Dual citizens are precluded from applying for settled status. Northern Ireland-based human rights groups claim that this prevents Irish citizens in the North from accessing their EU citizen rights after Brexit.

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