The Common Travel Area (CTA) that protects ease of movement of people between Ireland and the UK is "written in sand" and may require an Anglo-Irish treaty after Brexit to protect it, a new report finds.
Research by four UK-based academics being presented on Tuesday to a joint human rights committee set up under the 1998 Belfast Agreement highlights weaknesses in the critical arrangement covering travel and the reciprocal special status of citizens to live in and work in each other’s country.
The terms of the arrangement are “much more limited than is often believed” and it would benefit from “greater legal certainty” to continue their “smooth operations beyond Brexit,” they conclude.
The report undermines arguments made by British prime minister Theresa May’s government and prominent pro-Brexiteers, specifically naming the former Northern Ireland secretary of state Theresa Villiers, that the CTA would protect cross-border co-operation on the island of Ireland.
This is because, the report says, the benefits of many of its arrangements are underpinned by European Union law, which will not cover the UK post-Brexit, and domestic legislation.
The CTA has operated since the Irish Free State was established in 1922 but is not established under a single legal agreement ensuring people travelling between Ireland and UK do not require visas for travel and guarantees open-ended residence for immigrants from both countries.
The 85-page report warns that, without a legal grounding, Brexit could disrupt the CTA benefits and related arrangements such as reciprocal healthcare and right-to-work protections.
This is because, the reports finds, the UK may not have access to aspects of EU law that protect the arrangements and may not be bound to continue co-operation with Ireland in those areas that cover it.
‘Hotchpotch of laws’
The agreement exists insofar as it is “provided for by domestic legislation,” the report says, and a “hotchpotch of laws” creates “a generally aligned immigration system and more-or-less reciprocal special status for each other’s citizens, entitling them to equivalent social and political rights to ‘home citizens’.”
To protect it, the academics recommend, under a “gold standard” option, that the UK and Irish governments agree “a Common Travel Area treaty” covering common immigration rules, travel rights, residency rights and related rights to education, social security, work and health, as well as security and justice
Other options include a bilateral treaty on the core immigration, travel and residency rights or a joint intergovernmental memorandum of understanding on how the CTA works.
The report by academics at Newcastle University, Durham University and the University of Birmingham will be presented on Tuesday to the Joint Committee of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.
Twenty recommendations are made in the report to ensure the smoother operation of the CTA, including the need for the Irish and British governments to act on cross-border healthcare.
The report recommends contingency planning for security cooperation between An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland in the absence of EU structures, as the UK’s failure to reach an international agreement on security could be a “disaster” for policing co-operation on the island of Ireland.
Emily Logan, chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, said that it was “in the interest of all” that the issues raised in the report are “examined carefully and resolved to ensure a clarity of understanding and application of the Common Travel Area.”