Non-Irish EU citizens face visa requirement to cross border into Northern Ireland


Northern Ireland border check Belfast - Liam McBurney/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Northern Ireland border check Belfast – Liam McBurney/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Non-Irish EU citizens will have to apply online for US-style visa clearance before crossing the border into Northern Ireland from the Republic, under new post-Brexit immigration rules.

Dublin on Wednesday criticised the new controls after MPs voted down an amendment by the House of Lords exempting Northern Ireland from the Nationalities and Borders Bill on Tuesday.

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister, said: “This decision is regrettable and contrary to the approach that UK and Irish Governments have supported for many years to protect free movement on the island of Ireland for everyone. Our concern on this has been communicated clearly, but has been ignored.”

The Bill requires EU citizens to apply for electronic travel authorisation (ETA) before entering the UK. The amendment was defeated by a majority of 298 MPs to 216 after a government challenge.

The Government said that there would be no physical checks on the Irish border, which would be controversial because of the Brexit agreement to prevent them, as well as The Troubles.

Lord Frost, who negotiated the Withdrawal Agreement with Brussels, said that the new rules were needed and the Irish border was “an international border between two different countries”.

“One could be forgiven for thinking occasionally from Irish government public statements that sometimes they forget that,” he said.

Lord Frost - Olivier Hoslet/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Lord Frost – Olivier Hoslet/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The Withdrawal Agreement moves customs checks on British goods entering Northern Ireland to the Irish Sea to prevent the need for a hard Irish border. Combined with the Common Travel Area, a long-standing agreement for border-free travel between Ireland and the UK, it preserved free movement on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

However, there are fears that the border could be a back door to enter the UK because of the lack of checks.

Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, said: “UK and Irish citizens will continue to be able to travel freely. This new ETA requirement is about protecting the Common Travel Area from abuse.”

Irish sources said there were no plans to impose a similar requirement on UK nationals crossing into Ireland, which is not part of the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone.

British citizens will have to apply for pre-travel clearance to travel to Schengen countries once the EU introduces the European Travel Information and Authorisation System in 2023, but this does not apply to Ireland.

Dublin sources said that the new controls would hurt the all-island economy and harm EU citizens living in Ireland who crossed the border regularly for work. They claimed there had been little to no consultation with Dublin.

The European Commission, which is in negotiations with the UK to cut customs checks on the Irish Sea border, did not comment.

Mary Lou McDonald, the president of Sinn Fein, called on Micheal Martin, the Taoiseach of Ireland, to contact Boris Johnson immediately over the plan.

“Are we really suggesting that Polish people who live and work in Lifford now need papers to travel to Strabane, or from Emyvale to Aughnacloy?” she said.

“It will be devastating for the tourism sector, particularly for counties like Donegal and along the border region.”

Matthew O’Toole, the SDLP member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, said that the plan was “xenophobic “ and “Orwellian rubbish”.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the DUP, has signalled his support for the government measure.


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