Brexit ‘should not affect’ rights of Irish in UK, Brokenshire says

NI secretary says no reason to suppose UK leaving EU will damage ‘strong’ Anglo-Irish ties

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire speaks on stage at the Conservative Party Conference 2016 in Birmingham, England. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire speaks on stage at the Conservative Party Conference 2016 in Birmingham, England. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

 

The right of Irish people to live and work in Britain should not be affected by Brexit, Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire has said.

He told a House of Lords select committee that the British government stood fully behind its commitments under the Good Friday Agreement, including the right of people born in Northern Ireland to be citizens of the United Kingdom or Ireland and be treated equally in both jurisdictions.

He noted that under the 1949 Ireland Act, people born in Ireland are not treated as foreigners for the purpose of any UK law.

“We do have those strong ties between the UK and Ireland that predate the EU and also we remain fully committed to our obligations under the Belfast Agreement and we have no reason to suppose that the UK’s exit need affect those,” he said.

“It is that approach that we are absolutely taking in standing behind the Belfast Agreement and in relation to the rights that have existed up until now and it is very much the approach that we will be taking into the negotiations.”

‘Red line’ issue

Mr Brokenshire declined to endorse the idea of a bespoke post-Brexit deal for Northern Ireland but he said the particular interests of the North should form part of a UK-wide deal with the EU.

He said the British and Irish governments “have underlined very clearly their desire to see the Common Travel Area continuing into the future”.

The committee also heard from Robin Walker, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union, who said maintaining the soft border on the island of Ireland would be a “red line” in the UK’s Brexit negotiations with Europe.

“There are very few areas if you think about it, some would argue too few, but there are very few areas where we have set out very clear red lines ahead of negotiations and this is one of them where we have been clear,” Mr Walker said.

“This is so important that we want to put it right up front and we want to recognise that actually returning to the hard borders of the past wouldn’t be an acceptable solution.

“So it’s something we have been determined to put out there and the engagement will absolutely be there between our department between the NIO (Northern Ireland Office) and between the Republic of Ireland to make sure we can get to the right place on this.”