Brexit: UK-Irish relations Contents

Summary of conclusions and recommendations

The economic implications

1.Any potential negative impact of Brexit will probably be more significant for Ireland than for any other Member State, in particular in the event of any economic downturn in the UK, or in the event of tariffs or other barriers to trade being introduced between the UK and the EU. The agri-food and manufacturing sectors, and the SMEs that work within them, would probably be worst affected, given their reliance on UK exports, and this could place a particular burden on the communities that rely on these industries. (Paragraph 39)

2.Notwithstanding the potentially negative economic outlook overall, some sectors may stand to benefit. As an English-speaking member of the Single Market, Ireland may be able to attract increased inward investment post-Brexit. The contingency planning undertaken by the Irish Government also means that it is well placed to respond to the economic challenges that Brexit will represent. (Paragraph 40)

3.While the First Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland perceive opportunities for Northern Ireland outside the EU, our evidence suggests that the risks to the Northern Ireland economy posed by Brexit probably outweigh the opportunities. Northern Ireland’s agri-food and manufacturing sectors stand to be particularly affected, and we therefore urge the Northern Ireland Office and Northern Ireland Executive to redouble their efforts to engage with both sides of industry in Northern Ireland to ensure that their views are taken into account in the forthcoming negotiations. (Paragraph 60)

4.Despite ministerial recognition of the substantial implications Brexit could have for cross-border economic activity on the island of Ireland, there is still significant uncertainty over how the UK plans to mitigate these effects, and over the priority they will receive in withdrawal negotiations. (Paragraph 85)

5.It is extremely important for both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that an agreement is reached which takes into account the all-island nature of their economies. It is in the interest of the Irish economy, North and South, that the current movement of people, goods and services within the island of Ireland is maintained. (Paragraph 86)

The Irish land border and the Common Travel Area

6.Retaining customs-free trade between the UK and Ireland will be essential if the current soft border arrangements are to be maintained. The experience at other EU borders shows that, where a customs border exists, while the burden and visibility of customs checks can be minimised, they cannot be eliminated entirely. Nor, while electronic solutions and cross-border cooperation are helpful as far as they go, is the technology currently available to maintain an accurate record of cross-border movement of goods without physical checks at the border. (Paragraph 105)

7.The only way to retain the current open border in its entirety would be either for the UK to remain in the customs union, or for EU partners to agree to a bilateral UK-Irish agreement on trade and customs. Yet given the EU’s exclusive competence to negotiate trade agreements with third countries, the latter option is not currently available. (Paragraph 106)

8.There is consensus between the UK and Irish Governments that the Common Travel Area arrangements should be retained. Yet the references to the CTA in a Protocol to the EU Treaties mean that the agreement of EU partners to this approach will be required. While Ireland’s non-participation in Schengen suggests that it should be possible for the CTA to continue after Brexit, both Governments need to take action to convince EU colleagues of its necessity, in particular in the context of the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland. We also believe that the case for consolidating the CTA arrangements post-Brexit merits exploration. (Paragraph 114)

9.The UK Government has yet to determine whether it will seek to impose restrictions on the free movement of EU citizens to live and work in the UK. While we agree that, were restrictions to be imposed, the overall numbers seeking to enter the UK illegally to work via the Irish land border would be likely to be low, the introduction of restrictions could have an impact in particular on industries already reliant on EU labour, for instance the cross-border agri-food sector. We also acknowledge that other EU Member States are looking for assurances about how their citizens already resident in Northern Ireland will be treated. (Paragraph 124)

10.Short of the introduction of full immigration controls on the Irish land border, the solution would either be acceptance of a low level of cross-border movement by EU workers, or allowing Northern Ireland to reach its own settlement on the rights of EU citizens to live and work there. Given that immigration is a reserved matter, the latter option would require UK Government approval to an adjustment of the devolution settlement. It would also be essential that any intensification of Operation Gull should not inhibit the ability of UK and Irish citizens to move freely and easily between Northern Ireland and Britain. Bearing these caveats in mind, this may be an option worth exploring. (Paragraph 125)

11.It is imperative that the longstanding rights of UK and Irish citizens to reside and work in each other’s countries be retained. We urge the Government to confirm that the rights of Irish citizens under domestic law will be maintained, whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. (Paragraph 130)

12.It is not a given that the EU will tolerate uncontrolled movement from the UK into the EU, via the UK-Irish border. Both the UK and Irish Governments must seek to convince EU partners of the necessity of maintaining the reciprocal rights enjoyed by UK and Irish citizens, both because of the unique nature of UK-Irish relations, and in view of the specific circumstances in Northern Ireland. (Paragraph 131)

13.Any enhanced cooperation between UK and Irish authorities, for instance in the field of information-sharing, in order to strengthen the Common Travel Area for mutual benefit, will be welcome. But it is not, in and of itself, enough to prevent a change to the current soft border arrangements. The UK Government needs to be aware of the risk of placing a disproportionate burden on the Irish authorities in providing a solution to issues arising from Brexit, and the negative political message that creating such a burden could convey. (Paragraph 139)

14.Political stability in Northern Ireland depends on the confidence of both communities that their interests are being respected. Just as any undermining of the current soft land border would be economically, politically and socially unacceptable, so strengthened checks for UK and Irish citizens at the sea boundary between Northern Ireland and Great Britain would be politically divisive and inherently undesirable. Other solutions must be identified, to ensure that the positive progress of recent years in developing UK-Irish relations and promoting stability in Northern Ireland is not undermined by Brexit. (Paragraph 142)

15.Brexit has profound implications for the current high levels of cross-border police and security cooperation between the UK and Irish authorities. Our parallel report on Brexit: policing and security cooperation will consider the wider issues, but we note that, in the UK-Irish context, continued access to EU databases, and the ability to make use of the European Arrest Warrant, are vital if cross-border cooperation, and the fight against terrorism and organised crime, are not to be undermined. (Paragraph 152)

16.The increased and successful provision of cross-border healthcare is a demonstrable success story of effective cross-border cooperation. The launch of such projects has largely been dependent on the provision of EU funds, and it is vital that these and future projects are not placed in jeopardy by Brexit. Authorities on both sides of the border need to give assurances that these services will be funded in the future, that any practical issues arising from Brexit (such as the cross-border recognition of qualifications) are managed, and that formal and informal cross-border communication continues. It would be a tragedy if such cooperation, which improves peoples’ lives, were to wither on the vine. (Paragraph 157)

The impact on the peace process and on North-South and East-West relations

17.The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement assumes that the co-guarantors are both Member States of the EU. We note the case on appeal to the Supreme Court arguing that Brexit infringes the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. While the evidence we received did not suggest that the legal framework of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement would be substantially undermined by Brexit, we note the potential psychological impact of Brexit in undermining confidence in the Agreement and in subsequent agreements. (Paragraph 167)

18.We note also that the European Convention on Human Rights, which falls outside the ambit of the EU, is a crucial safeguard to the Agreement. While we welcome the Government’s statement that it stands by its commitments under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, we note that any proposal to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights would put that commitment under threat. (Paragraph 168)

19.We also note that the incorporation of the ECHR into the law of Northern Ireland is an obligation of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The Government’s intention to repeal the Human Rights Act will put it at risk of breaching this obligation unless the ECHR is incorporated into the law of Northern Ireland by means of the Government’s proposed Bill of Rights. (Paragraph 169)

20.Common EU membership has been a vital ingredient in the positive transformation of UK-Irish relations in recent years, and in helping lay the groundwork for the development of the peace process. It is incumbent on all sides to ensure that the relationship does not atrophy as a result of Brexit. (Paragraph 172)

21.Common EU membership laid the groundwork for the development of the peace process, as the border diminished both visibly and psychologically. In particular, it allowed Nationalists in Northern Ireland to develop a sense of common identity with fellow EU citizens across the border. The loss of EU membership thus threatens to undermine this sense of identity. (Paragraph 178)

22.The peace process is supported by a majority of people from across the communities, and it would be irresponsible to overstate the threat posed by Brexit. Nevertheless, Brexit is already proving politically divisive. All sides must remain vigilant to ensure that the momentum behind the peace process is maintained. (Paragraph 183)

23.EU funding has had a positive transformative effect on Northern Ireland, and on the border regions in particular. The Northern Ireland economy is more dependent on EU funding than any other nation or region of the UK, and its loss could have a devastating effect. Brexit is already giving rise to uncertainty about the availability of future funding, and there is some scepticism over the Government’s undertaking that the post-2020 funding gap will be filled. In view of Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances, we call on the Government to explore during the course of Brexit negotiations means by which it might continue to be eligible, post-Brexit, to apply to some EU funding programmes, in particular for cross-border projects. (Paragraph 194)

24.We welcome the engagement of the North/South Ministerial Council in Brexit discussions. We agree that the existing structures established under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement should be utilised and maximised rather than new ones being created, but given the serious cross-border implications of Brexit, the quid pro quo is that all sides must engage effectively in the structure. (Paragraph 204)

25.We call on the Irish Government and Northern Ireland Executive to affirm the continuing role of the existing cross-border implementation bodies in the post-Brexit environment. (Paragraph 205)

26.The all-island Civic Dialogue is, we believe, a useful format for discussion. While we respect the decision of the Unionist parties not to engage, and their concern about the establishment of any new formal cross-border mechanisms, it is important that politicians on all sides pay due account to any proposals emerging from the Civic Dialogue. (Paragraph 206)

27.We welcome the dialogue between the two Governments, and support the continuing work of the British/Irish Council and British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. We note concerns over the level of engagement by UK ministers in these fora, and therefore urge the Government to show the fullest possible commitment to supporting intergovernmental dialogue, especially with regard to Brexit. The bilateral link between the Taoiseach and Prime Minister in particular must be sustained and developed. The fact that UK and Irish ministers and officials will no longer meet in the EU context makes it all the more important that both sides devote the time and attention necessary to ensure that the bilateral UK-Irish relationship continues to prosper. (Paragraph 215)

28.We applaud the work of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in forging closer links between parliamentarians throughout these islands. Interparliamentary dialogue will become increasingly important once the UK is no longer part of the EU. (Paragraph 216)

29.Brexit poses significant challenges for Northern Ireland, which transcend the traditional dividing lines of Northern Ireland politics. While we appreciate that the DUP and Sinn Féin were on opposing sides during the referendum campaign, as the two constituent parts of the Northern Ireland Executive both parties have a duty to the communities they represent to work together and show leadership. They need to ensure, as Brexit negotiations begin, that Northern Ireland’s interests are effectively communicated to the UK Government, the Irish Government, to the EU and to other Member States. (Paragraph 225)

30.We urge the Government to enhance the role of the Joint Ministerial Committee for the duration of the negotiations, to ensure that the interests not only of Northern Ireland but of all the devolved nations and regions are properly understood and respected. We welcome the establishment of the new Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations, though it remains to be seen how effective this new mechanism will be. (Paragraph 232)

31.While the UK Government’s engagement with Northern Ireland stakeholders over Brexit is welcome, as far as it goes, there also needs to be more effective coordination between the Northern Ireland Office and Northern Ireland Executive, and between officials in London and Belfast, as they gather information on the implications of Brexit. (Paragraph 233)


32.As this report has fully demonstrated, Brexit has profound and unique implications for Ireland, North and South, and for UK-Irish relations. In particular, we highlight:

33.We acknowledge that the negotiations under Article 50, on UK withdrawal and on the framework for the future relationship between the UK and the EU, will inevitably focus on issues affecting all 28 states concerned. But the unique position of Ireland, North and South, must not be overlooked. (Paragraph 259)

34.We therefore call on all parties to the negotiations, the EU institutions as well as the Member States, to give official recognition to the special, unique nature of UK-Irish relations in their entirety, including the position of Northern Ireland, and the North-South and East-West structure and institutions established under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. (Paragraph 260)

35.We do not underestimate the difficulties, legal and institutional, of translating such recognition into a final agreement. Yet the unique nature of UK-Irish relations requires a unique solution. The preferred approach, we believe, would be for the EU institutions and Member States to invite the UK and Irish Governments to negotiate a draft bilateral agreement, involving and incorporating the views and interests of the Northern Ireland Executive and keeping the EU parties fully informed as this negotiation proceeds. Such an agreement would then need to be agreed by EU partners, as a strand of the final Brexit arrangements. (Paragraph 261)

36.Key objectives of any bilateral negotiation should include:

37.The EU has a strong interest in supporting this approach. It has made a significant contribution to the peace process, both politically and financially. It is therefore not in the interests of the EU, any more than of the UK and Ireland, for political stability in Northern Ireland, facilitated by the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements, to be put at risk by Brexit. The EU will also be particularly cognisant of the asymmetric burden that Brexit would place on Ireland, which has made clear that its future lies in the EU. (Paragraph 263)

38.A particular burden has fallen on the Irish Government to bring these issues to the attention of EU colleagues, and we therefore welcome the efforts the Irish Government has made to ensure that EU colleagues are informed about the unique circumstances in the island of Ireland, and the particular challenges of Brexit. (Paragraph 264)

39.But the primary responsibility for drawing attention to and finding solutions to the many challenges we have identified lies with the UK Government. Ireland now faces challenges that are not of its own making. Closer UK-Irish relations and stability in Northern Ireland are too important to put at risk as collateral damage of the Brexit decision. In an era of blossoming bilateral relationships, after long years of mistrust and misunderstanding, we urge the UK Government to be sensitive to the implications of its actions for the people and communities of Ireland, North and South. Anything less would diminish the efforts of all those who have worked so hard for peace and good relations across these islands. (Paragraph 265)

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