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Johnson: UK-Ireland free movement will continue in event of no-deal Brexit

UK News | Published:

The UK Prime Minister and Irish premier Leo Varadakar spoke by phone for almost an hour on Monday.

Boris Johnson

Free movement between the UK and Ireland will not end in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Prime Minister has said.

Boris Johnson and Irish premier Leo Varadakar spoke by phone for almost an hour on Monday evening, following the announcement that free movement for EU citizens travelling to the UK will end immediately in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister made clear that the common travel area, which long predates the UK and Ireland joining the EU, would not be affected by the ending of freedom of movement after Brexit.”

The common travel area is a special travel zone between the Republic of Ireland and the UK, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, which dates back to the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922.

The UK and Irish governments have previously expressed their desire to maintain the common travel area after Brexit and EU negotiating guidelines state that they would respect such bilateral agreements.

However, a House of Commons briefing paper from June 2017 quotes constitutional expert Professor Bernard Ryan, of Leicester University, who questioned the extent to which the rights of Irish nationals in the UK are secured by existing law.

Prof Ryan warned new legislation could be required to protect Irish nationals’ status in the UK post-Brexit.

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Mr Johnson has also written to EU Council President Donald Tusk outlining his opposition to the Irish backstop element of the Withdrawal Agreement.

In his letter, sent on Monday evening, Mr Johnson said his Government’s “highest priority” remains to leave with a deal, but this could not happen if the backstop remained part of the Withdrawal Agreement.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

He added: “It is anti-democratic and inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK as a state.

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“The backstop locks the UK, potentially indefinitely, into an international treaty which will bind us into a customs union and which applies large areas of single market legislation in Northern Ireland.

“The treaty provides no sovereign means of exiting unilaterally and affords the people of Northern Ireland no influence over the legislation which applies to them.”

Mr Johnson said he is committed to ensuring there is no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.

He proposed “flexible and creative solutions to the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland”.

He added: “I propose that the backstop should be replaced with a commitment to put in place such arrangements as far as possible before the end of the transition period, as part of the future relationship.

“I also recognise that there will need to be a degree of confidence about what would happen if these arrangements were not all fully in place at the end of that period.

“We are ready to look constructively and flexibly at what commitments might help, consistent of course with the principles set out in this letter.”

Mr Johnson acknowledged that “time is very short” but said: “The UK is ready to move quickly, and, given the degree of common ground already, I hope that the EU will be ready to do likewise.”

During their telephone conversation, Mr Johnson and Mr Varadakar agreed to meet in Dublin in early September and also discussed other Brexit-related issues, including on the Withdrawal Agreement.

The Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister indicated that the Withdrawal Agreement in its current form will not get through the House of Commons, that the backstop would need to be removed and that an alternative solution is required.

“The Taoiseach reiterated the EU27 position that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened and emphasised the importance of the legally-operable guarantee to ensure no hard border and continued free trade on the island of Ireland.”

They added: “They agreed that their teams would maintain close contact over the coming weeks while recognising that negotiations take place between the UK and the EU27 task force.”

Both leaders reiterated their desire to see the Northern Ireland political institutions reinstated and also condemned the bombing in Fermanagh on Monday morning.

They urged anyone with relevant information to contact the PSNI.

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