Brexit: road, rail and maritime transport Contents

Chapter 8: Northern Ireland–Ireland road and rail transport

214.Throughout our inquiry it was clear that the level of bilateral integration of services and close cooperation between Northern Ireland and Ireland would place unique demands on their post-Brexit transport arrangements.262

215.As explained in Chapter 6, Belfast and Dublin are connected by rail through the Enterprise service, which carries around 942,000 cross-border passengers each year.263 By road, it is estimated that 177,000 lorries, 208,000 light vans and 1.85 million cars cross the border each month.264 Cross-border mobility on the island is facilitated by the Common Travel Area (CTA), which allows British and Irish citizens to move freely between British and Irish territories.265 The CTA predates the UK’s and Ireland’s membership of the EU and is founded on domestic legislation and bilateral agreements.266

216.Our evidence on future transport arrangements on the island of Ireland primarily came from the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company (trading jointly under the name Translink) and its CEO, Chris Conway. Translink jointly operates the Enterprise Belfast-Dublin rail service as well as approximately 18 cross-border coach and bus routes.267 As a result, this section largely focuses on public transport. General information on future arrangements for hauliers and private motorists can be found in Chapters 2 and 3. We also note that future transport arrangements on the island of Ireland will have implications for ports on trade routes to Great Britain, such as Holyhead and Liverpool.

217.Translink sketched out the markedly different conditions underpinning transport on the island of Ireland, compared to the broader UK-EU transport framework. These ranged from physical factors, such as the island’s low population density, to the social implications of “closely related communities on each side of the border” and “long-established free movement”. Translink concluded that for these reasons, “NI has particular circumstances which are largely unique in the UK and Europe”, and argued that post-Brexit transport solutions should be “considered according to the specific circumstances applying to this region”.268

218.Mr Conway gave the practical example of cabotage for passenger services, which he described as “a big issue … in an Ireland context”.269 In contrast to Mr Salmon’s evidence that cabotage “sometimes happens in a technical sense” on cross-channel passenger services,270 Mr Conway explained that cabotage occurred on 50% of Translink’s services. Translink added: “Many of the cross-border (and cabotage) services provided by Translink predate the UK’s accession to the EU and have historically operated as the only local service provision.”271

219.Mr Conway also noted that Regular services (passengers being picked up and set down at predetermined stops on specified routes), of which Translink operates over 70 a day, were a cornerstone of cross-border travel. The prevalence of cabotage and Regular services on the island of Ireland meant that any future reliance on the Interbus Agreement (which does not currently provide for either type of service, as discussed in Chapter 3) would “not be operational”.272

220.The Government has previously pointed out that a parallel situation on cabotage rates exists for hauliers on the island of Ireland: “The overwhelming majority of UK cabotage abroad is done in Ireland and the nearest mainland European countries.”273 The Government has also described cabotage for hauliers on the island as “common”.274

221.In contrast to the modest benefits it noted for reciprocal GB-EU cabotage rights, RHA saw “a strong case for bilateral cabotage arrangements with Ireland given the higher than normal levels of integration of supply chains”.275

An integrated arrangement?

222.Translink welcomed the Government’s plan for “a new cross-border agreement” to maintain the cross-border rail service. Its key concern was that “punctuality, reliability and quality of service” were maintained, but it believed this “would be possible in any Brexit scenario”.276

223.The company went on to raise the possibility that such an agreement “may not cover just rail [but] other modes of transport as well (including coach and bus)”. Translink identified some potential economic advantages of this approach, arguing that the island of Ireland had benefited from “an integrated approach to public transport such that bus and coach services benefit from connectivity with rail and overheads can be controlled”. This had supported the provision of “public transport in rural areas between communities either side of the border where it would be uneconomic to operate similar services on a commercial basis”.277

224.In justifying a bespoke arrangement, Mr Conway returned to the point that there were “a lot of local issues about the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which were there a long time before accession to the EU”. He warned that “the sort of deal the EU and UK may want to do on cross-border transport … may not want to get into the minutiae of detail involved in a cross-border deal between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland”.278

The EU’s contingency measures

225.In Chapter 2 we discussed the EU’s contingency arrangements to maintain aspects of UK-EU road connectivity in a ‘no deal’ scenario. In recognition of the “particular importance” of cross-border coach and bus services for communities in the Irish border regions, these arrangements included the temporary continuation of cabotage for passenger services in those regions.279

The Government’s position

226.The Government made clear throughout its evidence its intention to pursue a bilateral agreement with Ireland to ensure the continuity of the Belfast-Dublin Enterprise rail service.

227.In relation to passenger transport by road, Mr Grayling referenced the UK’s accession to Interbus as a potential solution in a ‘no deal’ scenario. He felt that if “we end up in a deal arrangement it will not be an issue”, as “when it comes to buses in the island of Ireland, [he knew of] nothing being proposed by either side that would place limitations on that”.280 Mr Grayling was aware that citizens either side of the border relied on cross-border public transport to access essential services, and confirmed he had met his Irish counterpart: “Suffice to say that there is a desire to ensure that things flow smoothly.”281

228.In our follow-up evidence session, Mr Rimmington said that the Government was “very aware” of the unique demands on Northern Ireland-Ireland transport, and highlighted that the “Irish voice … was one of the stronger ones” in negotiations on the EU’s ‘no deal’ contingency measures.282

229.The island of Ireland’s distinct social and economic ties place unique demands on its future transport arrangements. These conditions may not be best-served by broader negotiations on UK-EU transport arrangements. A solution may be found in an integrated bilateral approach to arrangements for passenger transport by rail and road.

230.We note that the EU’s ‘no deal’ contingency measures made a special allowance for passenger transport around the Irish border, albeit on a temporary basis.

231.In any case, the requirement for cabotage rights for passenger services on the island precludes any reliance on the Interbus Agreement or a future arrangement based thereon. It is therefore of vital importance that an agreement is reached to preserve Northern Ireland–Ireland bus services under any Brexit scenario. While there may be the will to achieve this on both sides, we warn against complacency and urge the Government to bring forward specific plans.

232.Notwithstanding the modest benefit to the UK of GB–EU cabotage for goods transport, we note that the UK has a strong interest in the maintenance of cabotage rights on the island of Ireland. We call on the Government to confirm how this disparity will influence its approach to negotiations on market access for hauliers.


262 The Protocol to the Withdrawal Agreement on Ireland/Northern Ireland includes a provision addressing “other areas of North-South cooperation” (Article 13). Under this provision, the United Kingdom and Ireland “may” continue to make arrangements that build on the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in (among other matters) the area of transport. See also paragraphs 173 to 175 of our recent report Brexit: the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration (24th Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 245).

263 Written evidence from Translink (TRA0020)

264 Oral Evidence taken before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, 8 February 2017 (Session 2017–19), Q 461 (Daniel Mulhall)

265 Article 5 of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland of the Withdrawal Agreement deals with the Common Travel Area and would allow the UK and Ireland to continue to “make arrangements between themselves relating to the free movement of persons between their territories”.

266 Home Office, ‘Common Travel Area (modernised guidance)’: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/common-travel-area-modernised-guidance [accessed 19 December 2018]

267 Enterprise is jointly operated with Iarnród Éireann (IE) under a cross-border agreement. There are 18 scheduled Enterprise services per day. Written evidence from Translink (TRA0020)

268 Written evidence from Translink (TRA0020)

269 Q 50 (Chris Conway)

270 Q 50 (Steven Salmon)

271 Written evidence from Translink (TRA0020)

272 Q 52 (Chris Conway)

273 Letter from Jesse Norman MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, to Lord Boswell of Aynho, Chairman of the House of Lords European Union Committee (23 October 2017): http://europeanmemoranda.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/files/2017/10/Boswell_9668–17.pdf [accessed 19 December 2018]

274 Letter from Jesse Norman MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, to Lord Boswell of Aynho, Chairman of the House of Lords European Union Committee (8 May 2018): http://europeanmemoranda.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/files/2018/05/180508_-_Jesse_Norman_-_Lord_Boswell_-_9668–17_Amending_reg_No_1071–2009_and_1072–2009_and_9969–17_Amending_Directive_2006-1-EC_(2).pdf [accessed 19 December 2018]

275 Written evidence from the Road Haulage Association (TRA0011)

276 Written evidence from Translink (TRA0020)

277 Ibid.

278 Q 51 (Chris Conway)

279 Regulation (EU) 2019/501 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 March 2019 on common rules ensuring basic road freight and road passenger connectivity with regard to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the Union, OJ L 85/39 (27 March 2019). Article 2(4) of the Regulation defines “border region of Ireland” as the counties of Ireland adjoining the land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

280 Q 58 (Chris Grayling MP)

281 Q 62 (Chris Grayling MP)

282 Q 82 (Ben Rimmington)




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