Brexit: Irish Border system should not ‘change dramatically’

MP says cross-Border freedom to travel possible if Britain quits EU as Ireland an island

Conservative MP Conor Burns, who supports the Leave side in the June 23rd Brexit vote, says the UK’s relationship with Ireland is probably the closest it has with any government and there would be no need for this to be altered seriously in the case of  a Brexit. File photograph: Conorburns.com

Conservative MP Conor Burns, who supports the Leave side in the June 23rd Brexit vote, says the UK’s relationship with Ireland is probably the closest it has with any government and there would be no need for this to be altered seriously in the case of a Brexit. File photograph: Conorburns.com

 

Although Taoiseach Enda Kenny has warned a departure by Britain from the European Union would prompt the reintroduction of Border controls, Conservative politician Conor Burns is less alarmist at the prospect.

The MP, who supports the Leave side in the June 23rd vote, says the UK’s relationship with Ireland is probably the closest it has with any government and there would be no need for this to be altered seriously with a Brexit.

What exactly the Border would look like after a separation is less clear, however.

“We would have to sit down and work something out, but I don’t see it changing dramatically, because Ireland is an island.

“It might mean that you need to have an enhanced way of checking upon arrivals - on what is historically very patronisingly referred to as the mainland - in Great Britain from Northern Ireland to make sure that wasn’t a new entry point, but I’m sure that arrangements can be come to, to ensure that is satisfactory and non-intrusive,” he said.

Catholic unionist

Mr Burns, a Catholic unionist, was born in Northern Ireland in 1972 before moving to Hertfordshire with his family while he was young. Now the Conservative MP for Bournemouth West, he was a friend of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher and is one of a vocal group of Tories campaigning for Britain to leave the EU.

In January, the Taoiseach warned that Border controls would be introduced upon a Brexit, even though the Common Travel Area is in place.

According to Mr Burns, that same level of freedom to travel can be maintained, on the Border at least.

But the prospect of a return of checks similar to those maintained during the Troubles has alarmed communities in the North and South.

“I don’t see why it [freedom to travel] couldn’t happen within the island of Ireland. We might then need to ensure that there wasn’t people coming in through that route into Great Britain. There is so much trade, so much cross-Border working, so many families that live both sides of the Border, that I don’t think it would be in anyone’s mind, on either side, that we would want to interrupt the flow of life that frankly existed during the appalling difficulties of the Troubles - and I don’t see why we would want to do anything to disrupt that,” he said.

“I don’t see why, outside the political structures of the EU, that there can’t be an ongoing incredibly close broadly unchanged relationship between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.”

Grown beyond remit

Like many on the Leave side, Mr Burns’s endorsement of a Brexit is based on the perception that the EU has grown beyond its original remit.

“Gradually we saw Europe evolve into something way beyond what any citizens of Europe gave assent to, which in the case of the UK was a membership of a trading and co-operating bloc called the European Economic Community.

“We saw that evolve into the European Community and ultimately into the European Union as it now is with a flag, an anthem, a parliament, a legal personality, a court, a supreme court,” he said.

“We have been driven to the point reluctantly where we see the only way to truly recalibrate that relationship and move to a different relationship with the European Union is through a vote to leave in the referendum in June.”

While accepting that there would be uncertainty in the financial markets on a Brexit, he said there had been similar warnings about the effect of Britain not joining the euro.

“I remember going way back when the idea of the single currency itself came along. A lot of the people who are delivering the same warnings today about the risks of a British exit were warning about the risks of equally dire consequences if Britain did not join the euro - Peter Mandelson, Ken Clarke…. the leading economists and so on.

“And I look back at that and say that we were probably right, that wasn’t the right thing for Britain to do, and the world didn’t cave in. And we have a very successful, relative to many other parts of the EU, very successful economy, a very flexible economy, a broadly growing economy emerging from the difficulties of the financial crash.”

Immigration

The number one issue which the British public say is of concern to them is immigration, said Mr Burns, and disentangling that issue from the decision over the membership of the EU is all but impossible.

“Because we can’t control those coming from inside the EU, but can control those coming from outside, we don’t have an immigration policy that is determined by us.

“Now in the event of a Leave… there is a chance that the UK could have an immigration policy where we would decide who, how many, what skills and so on.

“And we could discriminate - a positive discrimination in my view - we could discriminate equally between those outside the EU and those inside the EU,” he says.

“It allows the country to have a rational, reasoned immigration policy that is determined by what Britain needs. What Britain will need is high-skilled workers, nurses, doctors.

“It will need people who need to work in the hotel and leisure sector. It will need people... to help with the fruit harvests. It does not mean no immigration. It absolutely does not.

“The word is control. It is about who decides these things.”