Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Wrong again: the Leave campaign imagines Ireland controls its own border

The statement on immigration made yesterday by the Leave campaign is taken apart over at the EU referendum blog: in particular, the muddle-headedness of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Priti Patel and Gisela Stuart on the Australian points system, and their disastrous exclusion of the EEA-EFTA option. 

I am going to write about a different area of the statement, the part dealing with the relationship between a post-Brexit UK and Ireland.

It offers another example of the superficial research the Leave campaign put into framing their policies.

Here is what the Leave campaign leadership say in their statement (and you may notice that these MPs are so locked into the system of parliamentary elections that they cannot break free from the tone of a party manifesto. Somewhere in their imaginations they are fighting an election to form a government, not campaigning in a referendum to decide one question. They keep saying ‘will,’ as in the Speech from the Throne, ‘My Government will.’). 

The statement says: ‘There will be no change for Irish citizens. The right of Irish citizens to enter, reside and work in the UK is already enshrined in our law. This will be entirely unaffected by a vote to leave on 23 June.’

‘As the Northern Ireland Secretary has made clear, the common travel area that has existed since the creation of an independent Irish state will not be affected. There will be no change to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.’

No account is taken in this Leave statement of the obligations and restrictions which continued EU membership will impose on Ireland and the management of its border.

This would mean another Brexit problem thrown up by the Leave campaign’s refusal to support the EEA-EFTA option. They do not grasp that, once the UK is out of the European Economic Area, its border with Ireland is as ‘foreign’ as Russia’s border with Finland.

An independent Britain may be able to do what it wants on its side of the border. 

However, the southern side of that border will be controlled by the European Commission and EU law, not by the Dublin government.

Since 1995 the EU policy has been for ‘a shift towards more direct operational support and the Europeanisation of border management policy… The Union therefore sets out to establish common standards with regard to controls at its external borders and to gradually put in place an integrated system for the management of those borders.’ 

The Lisbon Treaty makes provision for this common border management policy. That is why Ireland will have EU obligations and restrictions on how it manages its border with the UK, no matter what kind of free travel Dublin politicians want.

Yet Boris Johnson and the others imagine that, once Britain leaves the EU, the border relations between the UK and Ireland can be those of two independent states as implemented in 1925 with the Common Travel Area (CTA).

The CTA has not, despite what the Leave statement says, ‘existed since the creation of an independent Irish state.’ It was suspended during the Second World War (the picture above shows one of the wartime border posts) and was not reinstated until 1952. That is 13 years when it was closed down and travel restrictions were in place between the two countries.

These controls were in addition to the later border checks system in place during the years of the troubles in the North.

In short, there is precedent for shutting the thing down.

More, the basis of what free travel there was rested on the acceptance of similar immigration policies by the two countries.

Indeed, the original CTA agreement was provided for in UK legislation by deeming the Irish Free State to be part of the United Kingdom for the purposes of immigration law.

If the UK leaves the EU, the distances between the immigration laws of the two countries will be too far apart for a Common Travel Area.

Because how would any post-Brexit British government allow an open border with an EU member state which may have thousands of EU immigrants who have been issued with Irish passports?

Or indeed which allows the free movement of any migrant who has acquired a passport from any of the other remaining EU member states and choses to travel via Dublin to the UK border?

Yet the Leave statement insists: ‘There will be no change to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.’

Leave proposes, Brussels disposes.

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