Northern Ireland news

Theresa Villiers's wishful thinking on Brexit will not keep the border open

Analysis by John Manley

THIS newspaper could be accused of being dogged in its pursuit of Secretary of State Theresa Villiers over her claim that the Irish border will be unaffected should the people of United Kingdom vote to leave the EU in three weeks time.

Since she first asserted that the free movement of people and goods between the north and the Republic would continue in the event of a so-called Brexit, The Irish News has sought to establish how she knows this to be the case given that there are many contrary views. The Tory government's Cabinet Office, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the chairman of the Vote Leave campaign Lord Nigel Lawson are among a growing cacophony of voices pointing to the imposition of a hard border, with tight controls on goods and people, should Britain decide to exit the EU.

Such as scenario would clearly be a major setback for Ireland – socially, politically and economically. It would set the clock back and would return us to a Troubles-like situation where time-consuming checks would hinder cross-border relations and undermine all the progress that has been achieved since the 1990s, much of it thanks to the EU. Only the most regressive elements would welcome such an outcome.

So while Ms Villiers is right to state that it is in the best interests of Britain and Ireland to maintain the long-standing Common Travel Area, regrettably she has no basis, beyond wishful thinking, to believe an open border will prevail. As Dublin's Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has pointed out, the fate of the border will not be decided by his government or Ms Villiers's but by the remaining 27 members of the EU.

The secretary of state argues for a Brexit on the basis that the EU is too powerful and too often unreasonable in its demands on member states, yet at the same time she remains convinced that Brussels will acquiesce to "good will and common sense" and leave open a land border with a non-EU country.

Then there is her own camp's aim to control immigration. Much of the impetus for wanting out of the EU is to restrict the number of people entering the UK, although under the scenario Ms Villiers envisages there will be no restrictions on movement in the common travel area, leaving anybody who enters the Republic free to travel to Britain. To counter this, she says there'll be measures that limit who's eligible for work and who landlords can let to but that hardly equates to Fortress Britain scenario so many Brexiteers long for.

Finally, the secretary of state's fanciful assertion also fails to take into account the increased threat from Islamic extremists, whom it's already been suggested may use the Republic to launch an attack on Britain.

After two interviews with this paper coupled with analysis of Ms Villiers's various contributions elsewhere, the only conclusion you can draw about her claim regarding the post-Brexit common travel area is that once the MP for Chipping Barnet made up her mind, the lady was not for turning.



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