Non-Irish EU citizens crossing Border face travel ‘clearance’ requirement after MPs’ vote

Human rights groups condemn move to reinstate US-style visa waivers

MPs at Westminster voted on Tuesday night to reinstate the requirement for a US-style visa waiver for non-Irish EU citizens crossing the Border as part of proposed new British immigration laws.

A majority of 298 MPs to 216 voted to back the UK government's challenge to an amendment introduced in the House of Lords, which would have exempted Northern Ireland from the legislation.

The human rights NGO the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) condemned the move, which it said was “unworkable and risks a hard border for many non-British and non-Irish citizens in Border communities who have been able to freely cross the Border to date”.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, said the decision was “regrettable” and “contrary to the approach that UK and Irish governments have supported for many years to protect free movement on the island of everyone.


“Our concern on this has been communicated clearly but has been ignored.”

Responding to Mr Coveney’s tweet on social media, the Northern Secretary, Brandon Lewis, said there would be “no controls on the Border.

“UK and Irish citizens will continue to be able to travel freely. This new ETA requirement is about protecting the Common Travel Area from abuse.

“Our commitment to the Common Travel Area is absolute, as seen throughout the pandemic,” he said.

Under the Nationalities and Borders Bill, EU citizens who are not Irish will be required to apply online for pre-travel clearance –known as Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) –before entering the UK, including when crossing the Border into Northern Ireland.

It will also apply to citizens of the European Economic Area (EEA) living in the State, which includes people from Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland.

Non-British or non-Irish citizens from other countries, outside the EU/EEA, which previously did not require a visa to enter the UK, will now need an ETA.

The Bill is part of a wider, post-Brexit overhaul of the UK’s immigration laws and includes provisions on asylum seekers, nationality and immigration control.

The amendment on Northern Ireland was one of a number of changes made to the Bill in the House of Lords which were overturned by a Commons vote on Tuesday. The Bill will now return to the Lords.

The opposition

Speaking in favour of the amendment during the debate, the Alliance MP Stephen Farry said the ETA was "essentially unworkable in the context of the island of Ireland" and urged the UK government to listen to the opposition of their Irish counterparts and to the "considerable concern" about it in Northern Ireland.

He said current movements on the island of Ireland were “not a threat to UK security” but it could place people who previously enjoyed freedom of movement across the Border in “legal jeopardy”.

It could also affect cross-Border tourism, he said, and with ten of thousands of cross-Border journeys taking place every day, it “could become fairly absurd” in Border areas where roads cross both jurisdictions.

The Conservative MP Tom Pursglove said the UK government was clear there would be "no controls on the Border between Northern Ireland and Ireland".

However, he said exempting the Border from the ETA requirement could result in “an unacceptable gap in UK border security” and that it was important “all individuals, except British and Irish citizens . . . continue to enter in line with the UK’s immigration framework to protect both the UK immigration system and the common travel area from abuse”.

Mr Pursglove said the UK was “entitled to introduce and change its own requirements in the interest of securing the UK border” and would continue to liaise with authorities in Dublin on issues of border security in relation to the Common Travel Area.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times