Reassurances to the Irish community living in Britain have come both from the UK Home Office and the Irish Ambassador to Britain following a disruptive and concerning decision by a Home Office official.
Following a case in the north of Ireland, an Irish citizen was informed that Irish citizens are not considered ‘settled’ for the purposes of immigration by the UK Home Office, despite Irish people in the UK being treated differently than other nationalities through the Common Travel Area.
The CTA gives Irish citizens ‘settled’ status as soon as they arrive to live and work in the UK, and has been the major safeguard for Irish citizens on this side of the Irish Sea throughout the Brexit negotiations. Unless deported for a criminal offence, Irish citizens have the right to live and work in the UK under the agreement.
The ruling by the UK Home Office official was reported through freemovement, a UK website offering updates, advice and commentary on UK immigration and asylum law, and in the aftermath Irish organisations in Britain moved quickly to seek reassurances on behalf of the community here.
The Irish embassy in London also spoke to the community, through a letter by Ambassador Adrian O’Neill, in which he pledged to ensure the CTA is being safeguarded and used correctly and to communicate regularly with the Irish community in Britain throughout the crucial final stages of Brexit negotiations.
Delivering their clarification, the UK Home Office stated, “Irish citizens enjoy a right of residence in the UK which is provided for under domestic Common Travel Area arrangements; this is not reliant on the UK’s membership of the EU.
“This right will be protected as the UK leaves the EU. Irish citizens in the UK are not required to do anything to protect their status.”
The initial breach in policy had been highlighted during a First Tier Tribunal in Belfast, during which the incorrect position was stated twice by the UK Home Office presenting officer. However in clarifying, the UK Home Office outlined the rights granted to Irish citizens in the UK which safeguard their ‘settled’ status.
“Irish citizens have a special status in the UK. The rights of Irish citizens in the UK are rooted in the Ireland Act 1949 but also provided for in subsequent legislation,” the UK Home Office said.
“These rights include the right to enter and remain without being subject to a requirement to obtain permission.
“Irish citizens are treated as settled from the date they take up ordinary residence in the UK. They are considered to be settled as they are free from any restriction on the period for which they may remain—paragraph 6 of HC 395.
“The rights of Irish citizens will be protected as the UK leaves the EU. The Home Office Statement of Intent for the EU Settlement Scheme issued on 21 June 2018 stated: 2.6. Irish citizens enjoy a right of residence in the UK that is not reliant on the UK’s membership of the EU. They will not be required to apply for status under the scheme (but may do so if they wish), and their eligible family members (who are not Irish citizens or British citizens) will be able to obtain status under the scheme without the Irish citizen doing so.”
In his letter, Ambassador O’Neill spoke both about the future form of the border between Ireland and the UK as well as the work being undertaken to ensure the free movement of citizens between the two countries and the rights of Irish citizens living, working and studying in Britain.
“[Recently] Prime Minister May reiterated her commitment to ensuring there is no hard border in Ireland, and has also committed to having a legally operable backstop in the EU–UK Withdrawal Agreement, which we welcome,” Mr O’Neill wrote. “For final agreement to be reached, delivering on these commitments will be essential.
“The Irish Government is also working to ensure that the status of Irish citizens in the UK is preserved post–Brexit. Since long before Ireland and the UK joined the EU, the Common Travel Area (CTA) has allowed Irish and British citizens to move freely, reside in either jurisdiction and access associated rights and entitlements, including those related to employment, healthcare, education and social benefits, as well as the right to vote in certain elections. It also underpins the rights of those born in Northern Ireland to be British or Irish or both.
“In December of last year, the EU and the UK agreed that the CTA and associated rights and privileges can continue to operate. The UK Government has confirmed that Irish citizens will not need to apply for the “settled status” scheme (which has been established for other EU citizens living in Britain) although they can if they wish to. This was re–confirmed most recently in the UK’s White Paper on the Future Relationship between the UK and the EU, which states that the CTA means that Irish citizens will continue to hold their current status in the UK.”
The future security of the Irish community in Britain is a priority issue for both governments, and the Ambassador spoke about the important impact the Irish community has had and continues to have on British society, also identifying the continuation of the peace process in these testing times.
“It has been almost a year since I had the honour of becoming the Ambassador of Ireland to the UK, and what a wonderful year it has been,” Mr O’Neill said. “Together with the team at the Embassy, I have travelled across Britain working to strengthen the cultural, economic and political ties between Ireland and the UK.
“In the process, I have met countless members of the Irish community here and witnessed the impressive scale of achievements of Irish people in every walk of life. There is no doubt that the Irish community has contributed greatly to British society in all areas. I am proud of that contribution and thank you for it.
“In the course of my many conversations with Irish people here, I have frequently been asked about the potential impact that Brexit may have on Ireland and on the daily lives of the Irish in Britain.
“The Irish Government’s objective in these negotiations is to do whatever we can to ensure an orderly Brexit that does not damage Ireland’s fundamental national interests – safeguarding the peace process, maintaining the Common Travel Area (CTA), protecting Ireland’s trade and economy and ensuring the closest possible future relationship between the UK and the EU.
“Whether you were in favour of Leave or Remain, the reality is that the UK’s decision to leave the EU has the capacity – if not properly managed – to disturb the delicate and complex balance of the Good Friday Agreement. Therefore, the aim of the Irish Government has been to conserve what we have enjoyed for the last 20 years – an evolving peace process, a Good Friday Agreement that has transformed life for the better, and an open and invisible border that is both a cause and reflection of that transformation.”
For those concerned about the issues raised both by the spectre of Brexit and the incorrect statements by the UK Home Office official have also been encouraged to work with the Irish diplomatic missions in the UK and to stay informed through their media channels.
“In the months ahead, the Embassy will share further information on the completion of the work underway to ensure that the CTA continues to function effectively, so that Irish and UK citizens can continue to enjoy access to the arrangements in each other’s countries that we so value,” Mr O’Neill concluded.
“Where you have concerns or questions, I encourage you to highlight those to us, either through the Embassy or Irish community organisations. We have also developed a Brexit website which I hope you will find useful and informative.”