The Irish Times view on citizenship post-Brexit: Questions of identity
Government says it is engaging with London to ensure citizenship and identity provisions of Belfast Agreement ‘upheld in all relevant policy areas and in all scenarios’
Protesters against a hard Border hold placards at the Carrickcarnan border between Newry and Dundalk. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images
These are unsettling times for many in Northern Ireland. A clear majority there voted to remain in the European Union and now face having to leave against their will. That remain majority in effect has no voice at Westminster: of the two largest parties in the North, one – Sinn Féin – refuses to take its seats while the other, the DUP, is not only pro-Brexit but has shown itself willing to facilitate a chaotic no-deal withdrawal – an outcome that would be disastrous for the people the party represents.
The backstop has the support of all major sectors of Northern Irish life, including business, farming and the trade unions. Yet the DUP remains implacably opposed. In the name of a spurious ideological purity, it wants Northern Ireland to suffer every bit as much as Britain will suffer.
Layer of uncertainty
For Northern nationalists, there is another layer of uncertainty. Some of the biggest achievements of the Belfast Agreement were made possible by the fact that the Republic and the UK were EU members. Of particular significance was the guaranteed right to identify legally as British, Irish or both. But as the experience of Derry-born Emma deSouza has highlighted, London appears to be diluting that right.
On March 7th, London published new immigration rules which changed the the definition of a European Economic Area (EEA) national. In future, it stated, dual British nationals who were British by birth would not be considered an EEA national in the UK. DeSouza, an Irish citizen, has been told that in order to access EU right of residence for her US husband, she must first renounce her British citizenship – which she acquired automatically at birth but never sought.
The Government says it is engaging with London to ensure the citizenship and identity provisions of the Belfast Agreement “are upheld in all relevant policy areas and in all scenarios.” It must press the case strongly. But it must also offer public reassurance to all of those in Northern Ireland who identify as Irish that Dublin will do everything in its power to ensure their interests are defended as the Brexit fiasco develops.