Leaving the EU could be catastrophic to UK-Republic bilateral relations

Andrew Mackinlay, the former Labour MP for Thurrock, at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. Photo: PA Wire
Andrew Mackinlay, the former Labour MP for Thurrock, at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. Photo: PA Wire
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I shall be candid – I am implacably opposed to a United Kingdom Brexit.

It is time that people stood up and proclaimed that our membership of the European Union has been to the benefit of all.

The Union has been a force for peace and reconciliation, conflict prevention and conflict minimisation.

But my immediate fear is that too many people are blind to the potentially catastrophic consequences for the UK/Republic of Ireland bilateral relations.

A UK Brexit will also have an enormous negative impact on the mobility, trade and employment between Northern Ireland and ‘the South’.

Many people based in London, including politicians and journalists, say that ‘the UK is an island’; implying that it has no land border. This is nonsense. There is of course the 310 miles land border with the Irish Republic.

From the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, and until the The Good Friday Agreement and other peace accords, the border was ‘defined’. For some, it was a source of illicit ‘income’ and for others, the cause of maximum irritation.

Additionally, from the 1920s until recent years there were, as everyone knows, the periods of high military and police security. It is now all too easy to forget what things used to be like. Forgotten are the closing a border roads and the incapacity of people to easily access their properties, or see loved ones, without a major detour.

My very real concern is that people do not seem to realise that one of the inevitable consequences of a Brexit, will be a return to that kind of border regime. It will be imposed and initiated by the United Kingdom government, with all the inevitable political consequences that will be both real and some, perceived. Yet again, London shall be accused of ‘dividing Ireland’.

The cause of a new UK high-tech, restrictive border will not be, as in the past, the smuggling of sugar, butter, nylon stockings or even armalites. The cause will be the free movement of EU citizens within the European Union.

Without a closed border and tight controls between the United Kingdom/Irish Republic, the border shall be, to say the least, highly porous. It is only with the tightest restrictive border controls that the United Kingdom would be able to police or frustrate European Union citizens freely entering the United Kingdom via the 500 km land border; having legitimately entered the island of Ireland via Dublin and other Irish Republic points of entry.

EU citizens/migrants who, having entered Northern Ireland/UK via the Republic, will find it relatively easy to obtain false identities that belong to persons who were previously and legitimately working within the UK before Brexit, and who have an enduring right of residence and permission to work in the UK. (Their continued rights will have been ‘negotiated’ as part of the reciprocal UK/EU divorce terms, agreed to protect the United Kingdom workers in EU countries). When some EU citizens, who have long been established and working in the UK prior to Brexit, finally return to their country of origin, there will be an incentive for them to illicitly trade their identity/personality etc. The UK Border and Police Authorities will not find such a ‘trade’ easy to either combat or detect.

Illicit migrants from the European Union, via the land border, will find it relatively easy to work within, and inevitably expand, the ‘black’ economy of Northern Ireland.

I also want to draw attention to the fact that our membership of the Dublin Convention will have been abrogated by us upon Brexit. It is this convention that governs the processing of asylum seekers within the European Union, and has hitherto provided some protection to the United Kingdom.

Following a Brexit, any migrants/refugees from outside of the EU, who manage to enter Ireland via the Irish Republic’s ports of entry, will no longer be required to request their ‘asylum’ within the Irish Republic. The UK will have withdrawn from the Dublin Convention which requires that claims for asylum are processed by the first EU country in which the applicant enters. On entering the Irish Republic and on being challenged by the Republic’s Authorities, the ‘prudent’ migrant or asylum seeker shall declare that he/she wishes to go to the United Kingdom. The Irish Republic’s Immigration /Police Authorities will sensibly and logically point towards the border with Northern Ireland.

I also wish to draw attention to the impact that a restrictive and tighter border will have on the retail/shopping sector. I believe that there will be a stringent border with greatly reduced crossing points that are heavily monitored for the reasons I have already referred to. If I am correct about this, queues and inevitable delays, will over time, significantly reduce the incentive of people to cross from the Irish Republic to do much valued shopping within Northern Ireland. This will particularly hit the retail sector in Enniskillen and Derry.

Experts in retail will give you evidence that high value retail shopping is only deemed “attractive” by the consumer if the totality of the day’s journey/experience is considered to be “a recreational day out”, or a hassle-free fun-day.

It is that ‘experience’ which will be lost following the imposition of UK border controls, post Brexit.

The consequence will be significant reductions in the shopping and retail industry, and loss of jobs!

• Andrew Mackinlay is President NI Cooperative Party and was Labour MP for Thurrock 1992-2010. He was a member of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body. These were his comments to his party’s executive committee