No immediate change to UK-Ireland border policy

The former Irish Customs point along the Derry Donegal border at Muff in Co Donegal. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Brian Hutton, Press Association

DOWNING Street has said there will be no "immediate" changes in the operation of the common travel area between Britain and Ireland.

While it told MPs it is firmly committed to the open border policy, the UK government did not explicitly rule out eventual changes in the decades-old free travel arrangement as a result of Brexit.

The remarks are carried in a government response to Westminster's Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which warned in a report on Brexit last year that any new border controls threaten considerable disruption to people and trade.

"There is a strong appetite on both sides of the border and in all parts of the UK to maintain the current status quo," the government told the influential parliamentary committee.

"The government has been clear that there will be no immediate changes to our practices surrounding the common travel area.

"The UK and Ireland are working closely to consider the implications of the UK's exit from the EU and to maintain the open borders that UK and Irish citizens enjoy."

The decades-old common travel area deal, which dates back to the 1920s, secures freedom to travel between Britain and Ireland.

Downing Street also insisted it will trigger the Article 50 mechanism for negotiations to start on leaving the EU no later than March.

However, the response was received by the parliamentary committee on December 22, before the collapse of the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland.

The political crisis in the region has fuelled speculation it could delay the kick-start of Brexit negotiations.

The government said it understands the result of last June's referendum will have considerable implications for the people of Northern Ireland.

"The coming months and years will inevitably contain challenges," it added.

"But whatever side of the referendum debate people were on, now is the time to build bridges and come together.

"The United Kingdom is a great and strong country with a bright future and Northern Ireland will play a huge part in that."

London also vowed to put in place the strongest possible economic links with "friends across the globe" – citing the US, the Commonwealth and China –§ to create "new potential opportunities for Northern Ireland".

It added: "The government remains fully committed to the Belfast Agreement and its successors and to the institutions they establish."

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