European Movement responds to UK Government publishes position paper on border

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The European Movements in UK and Northern Ireland have responded to the British Government’s position paper which outlines the UK’s position on addressing the ‘unique circumstances of Northern Ireland and the land border with Ireland’.

The position paper — which has been published ahead of the August negotiating round — states that the Government will ‘protect the Common Travel Area (CTA) and associated rights for UK and Irish citizens, and put upholding the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement at the heart of its Exit negotiations’.

The paper also puts forward proposals on avoiding a hard border on the movement of goods and plans to ‘preserve the wide range of institutional cooperation between Northern Ireland, Ireland and Great Britain including for the energy market’.

 

The Government hopes that:

  • Support for the Belfast Agreement should be written into the Withdrawal Agreement to reflect the absolute commitment of the UK Government, Irish Government, and the European Union, to the peace process.
  • The Withdrawal Agreement should recognise that the people of Northern Ireland will continue to have — as set out in the Belfast Agreement — a birthright to both Irish and British citizenship. Any people in Northern Ireland who are Irish citizens will continue to benefit from the EU citizenship rights that flow from that.
  • The Withdrawal Agreement should also recognise the ongoing status of the CTA and associated rights, a position that is entirely consistent with the EU’s negotiating directives. This will mean there are no passport controls for UK and Irish citizens travelling within the CTA and no question of new immigration checks operating between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
  • PEACE funding for reconciliation projects in border areas should be continued. We want to explore a potential future programme post-2020 with the Northern Ireland Executive and Irish Government.
  • The UK and the EU should agree a common understanding of the principles of North-South and East-West cooperation in the initial phases of the dialogue, including key principles to test future models for border arrangements and energy. This includes no physical border infrastructure and maintaining the Single Electricity Market.

According to the Centre for Cross Border Studies, while the ‘high level objectives’ are welcome, it would appear that the UK intends that only the existing arrangements of the Common Travel Area and the existing Peace IV (2014-2020) Programme will be agreed by October.

“The many other issues related to Northern Ireland/Ireland such as the rights of citizens (beyond those covered by the CTA), the physical presence of border controls and management of movement of people, goods and services, remain subordinate to the determination of the UK Government to pursue its ‘bold and ambitious’ Free Trade Agreement.”

Michael Young, interim CEO of the European Movement UK, said:

“By being in the EU, the customs union and the single market the UK derives many unique benefits, which we want to safeguard. The government’s obsession with exiting the customs union because of the advisory EU Referendum last June, where almost half of voters wanted to remain in the EU – including the majority of voters in Northern Ireland, risks unsettling the hard-won peace process in Northern Ireland.

“This is notwithstanding the considerable efforts of many in these Islands to heal divides; the huge loss of life because of the Troubles; and the suffering, bravery and persistence of those who live and work in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

“Ministers need to recognise that advisory measures can and should be amended when they threaten hard-won gains. Situations and views can change quickly and, with that, the need to change course also emerges and this is what government must do as it negotiates with our colleagues and friends in Europe.

“The simple adjustment of staying within the customs union would remove at a stroke the potential dangers the border question risks opening up and we call upon the Government to be flexible in its approach.”

Ian Parlsey, Chair of European Movement in Northern Ireland had expressed his ‘deep concern’ that the proposals are simply unworkable and there needs to be fundamental recognition of the serious administrative burden this will pose not only on businesses, but also voluntary organisations and devolved departments.

“Government needs to recognise the easiest way to a ‘seamless and frictionless’ border is to remain in the single market and have a common customs union, which doesn’t jeopardise the peace process.”

Deputy Chair Ciarán Hanna says it is clear that ‘no deal will better the current arrangements that citizens in Northern Ireland currently enjoy by being members of the European Union’.

The response by the Centre for Cross Border Studies to the UK position paper can be downloaded here:

http://crossborder.ie/site2015/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/CCBS-Response-to-the-UK-Govt-position-paper-18.08.2017-2.pdf

The UK Position Paper can be downloaded at this address:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/northern-ireland-and-ireland-a-position-paper

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