The Lords European Union Committee is calling for a new bilateral UK-Irish agreement ahead of Brexit, recognising the special relationship between the two
The European Union Committee of the House of Lords published a report on Monday calling for a new UK-Irish agreement to be drawn up ahead of the UK’s departure from the bloc, expected by 2019.
They say that all parties in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations – the UK Government and EU institutions included – should officially recognise “the special, unique nature of UK-Irish relations”.
“Brexit gives rise to a series of complex and interconnected questions, affecting UK-Irish relations, Northern Ireland, and North-South relations on the island of Ireland,” the report reads. “Yet these issues are often overlooked on the British side of the Irish Sea.”
Their report outlines the many economic, political, legal and institutional challenges that Brexit will pose for Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and for UK-Irish relations overall.
UK-Irish relationship in sharp relief
The Select Committee say that it is in Northern Ireland where the consequences of the vote to leave in the EU referendum of 23 June 2016 are thrown into sharpest relief. Northern Ireland receives significant levels of EU funding, and engages in high volumes of cross-border trade and economic cooperation with the Republic of Ireland.
Not only will there be economic repercussions across the island, but the fact remains that 56% of referendum votes cast in Northern Ireland were for ‘remain’. Many have speculated on the effect that Brexit will have on the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement.
According to the Committee: “[T]here is a pervasive sense that, while these issues are high on the agenda in Dublin and Belfast, they are not receiving the attention they deserve in London, Brussels or other EU capitals.”
The Committee concluded that any negative impact of Brexit on the UK economy is likely to be replicated, or even magnified, in the Irish economy. The Committee agreed that the unique nature of UK-Irish relations requires a unique solution, and calls on the UK and Irish Governments to negotiate a draft bilateral agreement, incorporating the views and interests of the Northern Ireland Executive, which would then need to be agreed by the EU as part of the final Brexit negotiations.
Ireland’s hands tied?
However, the European Commission has stood strongly by its position of ‘no negotiation without notification’ ever since the referendum result was announced. As a continuing member state of the EU, Ireland cannot engage in any such talks before Article 50 is triggered without the risk of antagonising the Commission and other members of the EU-27.
The Committee argue that the key objectives of any such agreement should include:
- Maintenance of the current open land border between the UK and Ireland.
- Maintenance of Common Travel Area arrangements, including the right of free movement within it for UK and Irish citizens, and their right to reside and work in both countries.
- Retention of the right to Irish (and therefore EU) citizenship for the people of Northern Ireland.
- A customs and trade arrangement between the UK and Ireland if the UK leaves the customs union.
- Acceptance of the Northern Ireland Executive’s right to exercise devolved powers in making decisions about the free movement of EU workers within its jurisdiction.
- Reaffirmation by both Governments of their commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and continued support for cross-border cooperation.