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Cool response to James Brokenshire's plan to shift immigration controls after Brexit

Secretary of State James Brokenshire has floated the idea of moving Britain's immigration control to Ireland. Picture by Stefan Rousseau, Press Association

OPPOSITION parties in the Republic have rejected suggestions by secretary of state James Brokenshire that Britain's immigration controls could be shifted across the Irish Sea when the UK leaves the EU.

Mr Brokenshire said moving immigration checks to Irish ports and airports following Brexit would avoid the imposition of a hard border and stop Ireland being used as a "back door" into Britain.

He said the move would allow the Common Travel Area (CTA) to be maintained.

"We have put in place a range of measures to further combat illegal migration working closely with the Irish government," the secretary of state said in an interview with the Guardian.

“Our focus is to strengthen the external border of the common travel area, building on the strong collaboration with our Irish partners.”

Mr Brokenshire said moving the immigration controls would be an alternative to imposing checks along the border, which many fear could violate the Good Friday Agreement.

"Political stability and prosperity in Northern Ireland has been hard fought over many decades, and we will not do anything to undermine it," he said.

The measures would primarily target non-Europeans, as EU nationals are automatically granted the right to enter the Republic.

A statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin said a key objective of both governments post-Brexit would be preserving the CTA, including the land border with Northern Ireland.

"Officials from the two governments are in constant contact, and the Department of Justice and the Home Office work closely together on the protection of the common travel area, including the maintenance of its external perimeter," the statement said.

"Discussions regarding the potential impact on immigration matters post-Brexit are ongoing, as part of this process of cooperation."

But Fianna Fáil's foreign affairs spokesman Darragh O'Brien said the proposal was "highly implausible".

He said the idea that the Republic would limit the movement of EU citizens within the country was "not grounded in any reality".

"At the most basic level, how would those promoting this idea propose that we stop our visitors travelling north of Dundalk?" Mr O'Brien said.

"Ireland is determined to play a constructive role in the Brexit negotiations that will now take place and to ensure that the special position of Northern Ireland is recognised, but we need to be clear that our membership of the EU and the freedoms associated with it are not up for any sort of negotiation."

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy said the secretary of state's proposal showed the British government was "in the driving seat" regarding the impact of Brexit on the island of Ireland.

"This is entirely unacceptable and we need to see the Irish government take up their responsibilities to the Irish people, north and south, and to stop being led by the nose by the Tory Brexiteers, who clearly do not have Ireland’s interests at heart.”

The response in the north to the proposal was rather muted, however.

An SDLP spokesman said the party would look at the detail of the proposals.

"People across this island must be guaranteed access to the single market, they must be guaranteed continued free movement across these islands and the British government must guarantee that all European funding will be matched, leaving no one worse off. That is the bare minimum standard," the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, a a former leading civil servant has suggested that Brexit could pave the way for some control over migration being handed to ministers in the devolved administrations.

Professor Jim Gallagher said that in the aftermath of the vote to leave the European Union it was "entirely possible – and arguably desirable" that politicians in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and possibly even the Mayor of London could "manage the process of EU migration into their territories".

The academic, who was formerly Whitehall's most senior civil servant concerned with devolution, told an audience in Scotland that"bizarrely enough bad Brexit decisions give potentially good opportunities".

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