Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Teresa Villiers has, on several occasions, rubbished the idea that Brexit would necessarily mean the return of border controls between Newry and Dundalk. On Thursday she dismissed comments by leading fellow Brexiter, former chancellor Nigel Lawson that "there would have to be border controls" to stop migrants entering Britain through a backdoor route from the South.
Ms Villiers said he had “made a mistake”, insisting the border would be as “free flowing” as it is today. She insisted in a BBC interview that the common travel area would continue to operate : “We do need to recognise that the relationship between the UK and Ireland when it comes to this common travel area is decades older than our EU membership and doesn’t depend on it. We’ve run an effective common travel area for many decades with the Republic of Ireland and there’s every reason to suggest that that would continue whether we leave the EU or we don’t”.
Such openness to the free flow of Irish and British people between and within these islands would be reassuring were it not for the nature of the Brexit debate, focussed largely as it is on the control and exclusion of EU migrants. It beggars belief that a UK outside the EU would leave a back door wide open to EU migrants entering from the South to which they have free access. The idea of catching them and expelling them once they are in will not go down well with her allies in London.
But even in the unlikely event the UK decided that it did not need border controls, the Republic could well find itself under pressure to impose them itself by virtue of its new status as the EU’s external border. Although not a member of Schengen, the free movement of our citizens around the rest of the EU might be called into question if there was an open border with a non-member state. Controls on trade are also likely to be necessary unless the UK can negotiate a new free access deal to the single market. That is likely to be dependent on a problematic willingness to agree to free movement of labour .... which is where we started.