The United Kingdom and Ireland last week signed a Memorandum of Understanding that seeks to ensure Irish and UK citizens will still have the right to work and travel in each other’s countries under the Common Travel Area even in the case of a hard Brexit.
The agreement covers only the free movement of people.
The exchange of goods and services between the two countries still depends on the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union.
That means a ‘hard Border’ on the island of Ireland still remains a possibility.
Tory Eurosceptics, members of the party’s hard-right ERG, immediately welcomed the agreement as validation of their own claims that the Border had been overblown as an issue and could be solved by bilateral agreements just between the UK and Ireland.
In particular, they sought to use it as leverage to remove the so-called ‘backstop’ – treating the island of Ireland as one jurisdiction in terms of EU regulations – designed as a safety against a hard border.
That is very far from Ireland’s, and Brussels’, joint position.
The DUP, upon whose Commons votes the Tories depend to stay in government, has said as long as the backstop safeguard remains in Prime Minister Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement it will not support it.
Last week’s deal – a memorandum of understanding – safeguards reciprocal rights to vote in local and national parliamentary elections in each other’s jurisdictions, as well as access to social security benefits, health services and education for citizens of both countries after Brexit.
British and Irish officials have been working on it since 2017.
The arrangements were previously covered under several separate laws and bilateral agreements, many of which have been linked to EEC, EC and EU law since the UK and Ireland – with Denmark – joined the EEC in 1973.
They cover Ireland, the UK, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, allowing British and Irish citizens to travel freely and reside in either jurisdiction.
Leader of the ERG Jacob Rees-Mogg MP said last week’s memorandum of understanding “is a sensible reaffirmation of the status quo and a reminder of the fictional nature of the scare stories.”
Mr Coveney said: “This demonstrates and confirms the commitment of both governments to maintaining the common travel area in all circumstances.”
Late last year, legal experts told the Irish World that Irish citizens living in the UK should consider registering as EU citizens under the UK’s proposed settled status scheme to protect their existing rights.
They warned that the century-old agreement has been overstated as a means of assuring frictionless movement between the two countries after Brexit.
The findings of a report presented to the joint human rights committee set up under the 1998 Belfast Agreement recommended that the Irish and UK governments should agree “a new intergovernmental Common Travel Area treaty”.
“We all saw what happened with the Windrush generation; we know how quickly things can happen and things can change with your status,” Prof O’Donoghue said.
Dagmar Shiek, a professor in EU law at Queens University Belfast, told the Irish World that the Common Travel Area is “built on sand”.
Following the signing of the memorandum last week, Mr Lidington said the Common Travel Area is “a longstanding, cherished set of arrangements that have real significance in people’s day-to-day lives”.