Pledges by Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers that a British vote to leave the EU will not lead to Border controls have been rejected as "untenable" by the former PSNI chief constable, Hugh Orde.
In a sharply worded criticism, Mr Orde, who led the PSNI for seven years, said Ms Villiers “continues to keep her head firmly stuck in a peat bog”.
"If you shut the front door [to immigration into the UK], leaving the back door open would be stupid," Mr Orde writes in today's Irish Times. "Indeed, serious players such as Lord Nigel Lawson and UK justice minister Dominic Raab have acknowledged this fact."
Dismissing the need for any changes if the UK votes to quit the European Union on June 23rd, Ms Villiers last month said that she could see "no reason" why the Irish/UK Common Travel Area, allowing free movement for Irish citizens, would not continue.
However, Mr Orde writes that her position is “at right angles” to the one adopted by others in the Leave campaign, and she “needs to clarify in very simple terms” her position.
“It seems to me that anything that suggests an increased division in Northern Ireland and between Northern Ireland and the Republic is a bad thing,” said Mr Orde, who added that his years in Northern Ireland were the most satisfying of his career.
Rejecting Mrs Villiers’s view that a
vote would have no impact on the peace process, Mr Orde writes: “The vision of Border controls plays into the hands of those who are yet to realise the armed struggle is over. “The removal of the towers along the Border was a significant event in the history of Northern Ireland. It represented a shift to civilian policing, and a recognition that significant political achievements had created the conditions that allowed it to happen.
“Any step backwards is a really bad idea, which is why Villiers’s position on this critical issue is close to untenable.”
Supporting the UK’s continued place in the EU, Mr Orde said it would inevitably lose out from the co-operation now enjoyed by EU police forces if the electorate votes to quit.
“I do not want to be on the outside of an organisation that has recently created an anti-terror hub to combat the new threats we all face that pay little attention to borders,” he writes.
“On the subject of borders,” Mr Orde writes, “I find the Leave arguments both extraordinary and confused. It seems that the main argument is that we can pull up the good old drawbridge and keep everyone we do not want or do not like out”.