The British government is working on a way to try and fix the issue of the land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s border is a contentious issue as we approach the end of free-movement in 2019, currently, there appears to be little appetite for a return to a hard border between the two nations that share the mainland of Ireland. The checkpoints between the countries once stood as a target for sectarian violence during the Troubles and are an iconic reminder of a time in recent history that Ireland would rather forget.
With Brexit coming into view there is an issue of the Irish Republic which will still be in the European Union and Northern Ireland no longer being part of the union. This has caused significant tension between Westminster and the Irish government, as the two factions work to try and find a permanent solution to the potential issue of Ireland providing a backdoor for entry from the EU into the UK. Presently the countries of the UK have a common agreement with the Irish Republic when it comes to travel rights but going forward the issue of allowing this backdoor means that once again there could be a black market for EU citizens to enter the UK.
Of all of the issues surrounding Brexit, the immigration issue appears to be the big one. On both sides of the EU negotiation table, the future of freedom of movement and rights for EU citizens appear to be a huge stumbling block. The UK has a tough job of trying to carefully balance its needs in regards to immigrants with the wishes of those who wish to see a significant reduction in the numbers of immigrants coming to the UK. There’s also the issue of British citizens who live in the EU which is a significant number that is being added to at an increasing rate before the changes in 2019 come into force.
Britain’s cordial relationship with the Irish Republic means that the Common Travel Area is likely to continue and as such the UK will need to ensure that it can make the changes that allow EU citizens to live and work in the UK legally. The Irish government had put forward the idea of a sea based border, but the British government had rejected such an idea. The UK’s potential answers to the issue appear to be based around the reform of visas. This will allow a freedom of travel to the UK for EU citizens but no right to work or remain. Once arriving or in advance, EU citizens would need to apply for a work visa. Though in practice this would be hard to police and may encourage the formation of more cash in hand jobs so that those who wanted to could circumvent the system. Whatever happens, the conundrum of what to do with the border with Ireland is sure to cause some sleepless nights in Westminster.