Common Travel Area will survive ‘no deal’ Brexit, claims UK minister

Robin Walker says negotiators close to accord on citizenship rights and travel area

 British prime minister Theresa May:  said last week her government was making contingency plans for an exit from the EU without a deal on the future relationship.  Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

British prime minister Theresa May: said last week her government was making contingency plans for an exit from the EU without a deal on the future relationship. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

 

The Common Travel Area will be maintained, along with citizenship rights outlined in the Belfast Agreement, even if Britain leaves the European Union without a deal, a Brexit minister has said.

Robin Walker, a junior minister in the department for exiting the EU, told The Irish Times that negotiators were close to an agreement on both issues.

“I think we were very keen to secure through the negotiations with the EU their commitment to respecting the Common Travel Area and acknowledging it. That has been already largely agreed. What we want to do now is agree on text that we can put into a withdrawal agreement,” he said.

“We are very close to a withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU. I think when people talk about a deal or no deal, that’s not really what they’re talking about. What they’re talking about is the whole future partnership and that side of things. And I think we can absolutely enshrine each of these key commitments in that withdrawal agreement with the EU.

“So I’m confident that we can get that. But the UK is absolutely committed to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement regardless. That is something we won’t be stepping back from in any sense at all.”

Mr Walker was speaking in Liverpool where he addressed the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which brings together members of the Oireachtas, the Westminster parliament and devolved assemblies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Trading relationship

A number of the parliamentarians quizzed Mr Walker on how Britain could avoid a hard Border if it leaves the customs union. He acknowledged that finding a solution depended on reaching an agreement on the future customs and trading relationship between Britain and the EU.

“I think we all recognise the impossibility of putting up barriers between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Clearly, getting an agreement between the UK and the EU will make that much easier to address from both sides’ perspectives. And one of the things we need to do through this negotiation is to secure the commitment from the EU side that there are no arrangements that could inadvertently create a hard border from that perspective,” he told The Irish Times.

British prime minister Theresa May said last week her government was making contingency plans for an exit from the EU without a deal on the future relationship. Mr Walker said the impact of such a scenario on Northern Ireland was part of that planning.

“We are very much focused on what we can achieve in getting a deal but we are also of course, as you’d expect us to, doing the contingency planning. I can’t go into it or say much publicly about that but I think the importance of many of these aspects between us in terms of the Good Friday Agreement, in terms of the Common Travel Area, they’re already underpinned in our own laws.

Irish in UK

“And with regard to the treatment of Irish citizens and UK citizens in Ireland, these are things that are protected in both UK and Irish law. So I’m very confident that we can continue to deliver on those whatever the outcome,” he said.

The assembly also heard from Chloe Smith, a Northern Ireland Office minister, who said responsibility for restoring the executive lay squarely with the DUP and Sinn Féin.

“It is up to the two major parties to be able to form an executive. The UK government has done everything within its power to facilitate that happening and continues to do so,” she said. “It is down to the parties to do this for their constituents and for all of the people of Northern Ireland.”