Free EU movement in NI is likely to mean a hard border with GB

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

A report by the House of Lords EU Committee has suggested that Stormont should have the power to grant or deny freedom of movement to EU nationals within Northern Ireland after Brexit.

The committee is the latest voice to warn, in effect, that Brexit could damage achievements in securing peace in Northern Ireland.

Alarm bells should ring when anyone says this in relation to Brexit and Northern Ireland. It is often code for saying that Brexit should not in fact happen or that somehow it should not happen in the Province.

While the UK-wide referendum on June 23 was merely on the strict question of In-Out membership, almost no-one disputes that deep anxiety about immigration was at the heart of the decision of the British people to vote out.

This is shaping the question of future British access to the single market. While the government’s aims in coming negotiations have not been made clear, Downing Street has hinted that if full membership of the single market means free movement (as Germany and others insist) then the UK will seek some level of access to the single market, rather than full membership.

Many things are up in the air at the EU level, such as the sustainability of free movement itself, given the concerns about immigration across EU member states, regardless of what happens with Brexit. But if the UK opts out of free movement, it is hard to see how NI can maintain it without a hard border between here and Great Britain.

We need clarity from advocates of this proposal as to how it can be achieved without passport checks for movements to or from the mainland (“ease of movement” across the Irish Sea could be used as mean swift and efficient such checks).

Such checks must not come into place merely because London is terrified of upsetting nationalists if the EU comes to demand any change to arrangements on the land border.