A proxy border guard for UK when Brexit happens?

Erosion of treaty right to free movement is at the heart of UK’s misguided determination to break its link with the EU


The suggestion, to avoid the necessity for a post-Brexit “hard border” on the island of Ireland, that our ports could act as external border posts for the UK is worrying. If that is indeed what is being proposed.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire raised the hare on Monday in an interview with the Guardian in which he spoke of such arrangements in the context of ongoing talks between London and Dublin on working closely to “strengthen the external border” of the longstanding common travel area between the two countries. Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has confirmed such discussions are indeed under way.

Under the common travel area regime, Ireland already co-operates happily with the UK – and vice-versa – to curb illegal immigration to the latter from non-EU states by impeding travellers at our ports or airports who wish to travel on to the UK when they are not eligible to do so under its rules. In 2014, such cooperation was extended through a joint visa regime to facilitate travellers from India and China.

It appears, though this remains unclear, that the new regime being suggested could extend such co-operation to cover controls on EU citizens who have a treaty right to travel freely to and reside in Ireland, but who would lose that right in respect of the UK after Brexit.

The possibility, however, that EU citizens could be turned back at an EU internal border (eg, between France and Ireland) at the behest of the non-member UK is not acceptable, or conceivable. It would certainly not pass muster with fellow member states who would have to approve such an arrangement.

It is unlikely that the UK will want to require EU citizens to get a visa to visit – or indeed that the EU would do likewise – and Ministers, including Northern Ireland Ministers, have spoken of nabbing those who enter illegally to work at the workplace. But however porous the border regime it puts in place, it seems certain that domestic political pressure will require the UK authorities to introduce some new form of frontier controls and monitoring.

Yet even a limited arrangement involving Irish migration staff sharing passenger information with the UK on the movement within the EU of its citizens would be problematic.

Such data sharing co-operation is commonplace in air travel for security reasons, but its extension to the routine monitoring of citizen movements around the “frontierless” EU on behalf of a non-member state would rightly alarm civil rights advocates.

The erosion of the cornerstone EU treaty right to free movement is at the heart of the UK’s misguided determination to break its link with the EU. We must not allow Ireland also to be dragged down that road because it seems a simple way to maintain our “soft” internal border.