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Priority 3: The Ireland-UK Common Travel Area

19 June 2017


A unique and intertwined cultural, social, economic and political history means a Common Travel Area (CTA) has existed between Ireland and the UK since 1922.

The CTA provides for free movement of people across the islands, but it also allows citizens of Ireland and the UK to access various services and benefits in each country, such as the right to reside, work, access public services and vote in certain elections. These go significantly beyond the rights afforded to other EU member state citizens under the Treaties.

The rights and provisions of the CTA are vital to the functioning of cross-border economic activity between the Republic and Northern Ireland. Consequently, the CTA is a fundamental basis and premise on which the Northern Ireland Peace Process is built, and which both the EU and UK recognise needs to be protected.

The CTA underpins longstanding Irish-UK ties and reflects the deeply integrated nature of the two countries and their economies. The Irish economy relies on the labour market in Britain to offer employment to Irish workers during economic downturns, and also to provide a vital source of talent to address skills shortages.

Many companies are organised on an Ireland-UK basis and the free flow of labour and talent between the two jurisdictions is crucial to the smooth operations of commerce. Businesses rely on the ability of being able to transfer staff with ease between the UK and Ireland and many employees of Irish and British firms work across both jurisdictions. Many thousands cross the border every day in both directions to work.

Neither Ireland nor the UK are members of the Schengen travel area and both countries currently operate border checks on people travelling from other EU Member States. Given the CTA, both countries also have a coordinated approach to travellers from non-EU/EEA countries.

While some of the provisions of the CTA have been subsumed within, or have been overtaken by EU rules, the Irish-UK CTA travel and immigration arrangements are explicitly recognised in Protocol 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.
Challenge: New travel and labour market restrictions between Ireland and the UK

Brexit will remove the UK from the EU’s free movement provisions that legally underpin many of the existing rights to travel and work, along with associated benefits that all EU citizens currently enjoy. While the CTA pre-dates such legal rights, and can operate independently of EU rules, it is crucial that no Brexit settlement undermines the ability of Ireland and the UK to continue to put in place bilateral arrangements in this area.
An end to the CTA and the introduction of new border controls would significantly disrupt the shared Ireland-UK labour market, adversely affect economic activity more generally, undermine the functioning of the all island economy while also posing an enormous and very dangerous challenge to the Peace Process.

Solution As recognised in both the EU negotiating guidelines and in the UK’s Article 50 trigger letter, any EU-UK agreement must allow Ireland and the UK to continue to make bilateral arrangements in these areas, including preserving the Common Travel Area. This crucial issue should be resolved in the early stages of the negotiations.

Solution Maximum and reciprocal travel and other labour market entitlements between the UK and the EU post-Brexit must be a key objective of negotiations, given the shared social and economic benefits.