Chair of Commons Irish committee calls on PM May for urgent legislation
By Bernard Purcell
Irish people working and living in Britain do not have the citizenship protections they thought they had and new legislation is needed urgently, according to the chair of Westminster’s All Party Parliamentary Group on the Irish in Britain Conor McGinn MP.
Mr McGinn, the Labour MP for St Helen’s North who grew up in Armagh, called on Downing Street to present urgent legislation in the House of Commons as soon as MPs return from their summer holiday.
To date Prime Minister Theresa May and Brexit Secretary David Davis have said that after Brexit in eighteen months time there should be no change in the status quo for Irish people in Britain or British people in Ireland.
“UK and Irish citizens will continue to be able to travel, live, work and study across both countries,” they have both insisted.
But migration law expert Professor Bernard Ryan of the University of Leicester last week repeated earlier assertions that it does not make any legal sense to just rely on the existing legislation, the UK’s 1949 Ireland Act, which he dismissed as a “dead letter”, and the 1971 Immigration Act, that “in no sense” provide detailed rights for Irish citizens.
Mr McGinn said: “The Irish community in Britain will be shocked and worried by this revelation.
“Hundreds of thousands of older Irish people have lived in Britain for decades. This is their home and where they have worked, raised families and made huge contributions to their communities. This news will cause them a great deal of anxiety.”
Professor Ryan said it was unlikely that British courts would accept it exempted all Irish citizens to subsequent immigration legislation.
“There is no express provision in British immigration law to the effect that Irish citizens as a class have the right to enter and reside in the UK without immigration permission,”
The rights to work, study, access social welfare and the NHS – currently guaranteed to EU citizens in the UK but uncertain after 2019 – “must therefore be considered unsecured, as they are contingent on a person’s having right of residence”.
“A full legal resolution will require legislation to clearly define the immigration position of Irish citizens.” The common travel area pre-dates both Ireland and the UK’s membership of the EU and it does not depend on either state’s continued membership of the EU for its existence, he said.