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Common Travel Area

Volume 628: debated on Wednesday 13 September 2017

4. What discussions he has had with the Taoiseach on maintaining the common travel area after the UK leaves the EU. (900727)

The Government’s position on Northern Ireland and Ireland affirmed our commitment to maintaining the common travel area. That is supported by the EU, as confirmed in its recent paper on Ireland. I have regular discussions with the Irish Government and know that they, too, are supportive of maintaining the common travel area.

Does the Secretary of State acknowledge the warning from Mary McAleese—the former President of Ireland, who was born in Belfast—that maintaining the common travel area in the long term would be impossible, because it is impossible to distinguish between a UK and Irish or any other citizen who holds a CTA entitlement? Does he acknowledge her view that that would inevitably mean border checks and passport control?

I point the hon. Gentleman to the paper that the EU itself issued, which said:

“The continued operation of the Common Travel Area is fundamental to facilitating the interaction of people in Ireland and the United Kingdom…Continuation of the Common Travel Area arrangements, in conformity with European Union law, should be recognised.”

I encourage the hon. Gentleman to do so.

Given that neither Ireland nor the UK is a member of the Schengen agreement, and given that security information is already shared whenever members of the public cross the Irish sea, does that not provide a framework for co-operation between north and south?

My hon. Friend highlights the strong co-operation between the Irish and UK Governments in respect of the common travel area. We want that to continue in the future. It has served us well over many decades, which is why our paper highlights its importance. Indeed, I think that the EU itself recognises that too.

The Government have produced a thoughtful, imaginative and innovative position paper on the issues of movement of people and goods across the border on the event of exit. Is the Secretary of State therefore disappointed that Dublin Ministers have taken up Sinn Féin calls for a border along the Irish sea, for special status for Northern Ireland and for staying in the customs union, instead of engaging positively with the Government on the proposals?

The Irish Government recognise the particular challenges. We encourage all those involved to engage positively and proactively with the position paper we published to encourage further discussion. It has workable proposals and we need to get down to having a detailed discussion on them.

In his discussions with the Taoiseach, has the Secretary of State reflected on the fact that the common travel area is based on neither country being in Schengen, and that the real threat to Ireland and the UK would come from a part of mainland UK joining Schengen, for which the Scottish National party keeps arguing?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point about Schengen. Our common framework on the common travel area has operated since the 1920s, and the UK, the Irish Government and the EU recognise its significance. We are determined to find a positive way through, and that can be achieved.