The Irish in GB are offered Brexit reassurances. Do they really need them?

The Times (£)  is carrying a story ” Irish NHS staff reassured over hard Brexit”  reporting that Irish nurses and doctors will remain a key part of the NHS in  England, ” despite plans to make the “British” ( sic – they mean English)  health service self sufficient within ten years.”

This is typical of stories in the London press which are confused about  devolution  and lump together Irish immigrants with others as foreign. Much of officialdom is ignorant about the common travel area and the legal position of the Irish in Great Britain as ”non- foreign” (whether all of them appreciate it or not).

There will be staff here from overseas in that interim period until the further number of British doctors is able to be trained and come on board in terms of being able to work in our hospitals,” the prime minister told the BBC Breakfast programme on Tuesday.

However, a spokesman for the health department appeared to row back on that yesterday and said that foreign-trained doctors and nurses from a number of countries including Ireland would remain integral to the NHS in the future.

“It’s very clear that Irish nurses play a key role and make a big contribution to the service. There are a number of nationalities: Irish, Indian, Greek and Pakistani, in particular, who are very significant in key parts of the NHS,” the spokesman told The Times.


Since the referendum – and now, after the Conservative party conference, what does it feel like to be Irish in Britain?  Uncomfortable, claims Peter Geoghegan  editor of Political Insight writing in the Irish Times. Let’s hope he feels better soon.

I loved Britain and its politics, because its leaders never said things like that. Sure the place has its faults. There are the reserve and the weather and the feeling, sometimes, that it is too much like home but not quite similar enough.

But temperance and tolerance – particularly in public discourse – were never an issue. They are now.

“It is increasingly uncomfortable living and working in the UK,” an Irish friend working in London wrote on social media. She is far from alone.

This morning my life in Britain looks much the same as it did yesterday. I still greet my elderly neighbour in the stairwell. I still chat to the Pakistani man in my local post office. But how I feel about the country I live in has changed.

Where once I was “non-foreign” in the most commodious sense, I now feel that I might need this legal jargon some day to protect my job or my right to stay here. By which time, I and thousands like me will probably have left.

On Irish and British immigrant rights in the Brexit climate the legal complications are probably more complicated than the practical ones. Irish rights in Britain have been expressed in terms of EU citizens’ rights and these may have to be unpicked, according to an authority on the subject, Bernard Ryan Professor of Migration Law at the University of Leicester. The rights of Irish citizens as EU citizens in both parts of Ireland to trade and work may be quite another matter.


Irish citizens are not considered ‘foreign’ in Britain, something which is linked to various rights and arrangements that directly or indirect favour them. In the event of a decision to withdraw, with the Republic of Ireland remaining inside the EU, the appropriateness of that special status might well be re-examined, either generally or in relation to specific rights.

Current arrangements

The fundamental provision concerning the status of Irish citizens in Britain is the Ireland Act 1949, which was passed when the Irish state withdrew definitively from the Commonwealth. Section 2(1) of the 1949 Act declares that ‘notwithstanding that the Republic of Ireland is not part of [Her] Majesty’s dominions, the Republic of Ireland is not a foreign country for the purposes of any law in force in any part of the UK.’ It goes on to provide that ‘references in any Act of Parliament, other enactment or instrument whatsoever … to foreigners, aliens [etc..] … shall be construed accordingly.’

After a decision to withdraw, the following questions concerning the legal position of Irish national appear the most likely to arise.

The Ireland Act 1949. In the event of the Republic of Ireland remaining within the EU, with the UK outside, questions might be posed as to whether it remains appropriate to classify it, and its citizens, as ‘non-foreign’. If changes were made, they would potentially affect all of the entitlements referred to above.

Position in immigration law. If the UK decided to withdraw from the EU, it would be necessary to resolve the question of the position of Irish citizens in immigration law.

If there was continued support for the common travel area principle, the most likely outcome is a general exemption from immigration control, in line with the position of British citizens in Irish law (above), so as to permit both entry and residence by Irish citizens. An exception could be made for exclusion and deportation cases.

The alternative would be a form of visa waiver for Irish citizens, regardless of where they enter from. This would permit entry and short-term stay, but not residence. The limited nature of this solution would also be difficult to reconcile with continued support for a common travel area between the two states.

Position in nationality law. A resolution of the position of Irish citizens within immigration law would permit clarification of their position in nationality law. At what point would they become ‘settled’ so as to permit them to acquire British citizenship by naturalisation, and their children to acquire it by virtue of birth in the UK?


Based on the analysis here, the following conclusions may be suggested as to the likely implications of a UK decision to withdraw upon the relationship with the Republic of Ireland, in relation to immigration and nationality law and policy:

  • The overall common travel area principle would probably continue to be supported by the two states.
  • It would probably be thought necessary to make specific adjustments to common travel area arrangements, e.g. to take account of persons with EU free movement rights in the Republic of Ireland, or to cater for international protection applicants
  • There could be pressure for wider changes to common travel area arrangements, such as the application of immigration control to air and sea travel from the Republic of Ireland to the UK, or rights of travel. These might lead on to consideration of a more comprehensive agreement between the two states.
  • It would be necessary to resolve the position of Irish citizens within UK immigration law and nationality law.
  • A wider questioning of the special status of Irish citizens in the UK, including their political rights, is also a possibility.




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  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    How would I know what trade agreements may, or may not, happen in the future? I drive an Italian car, not a modified DeLorean DMC.

    I think we’ve come to the end of this. I can’t take anyone quoting Donald fecking Trump to support their arguments.

  • Reader

    Kevin, your posts are losing coherence. However, I think you want clues about the post Brexit system – so, the rules for UK work visas are here:
    Of course the rules may be changed before Brexit, and EU citizens might be let in under easier rules – but there’s as much detail as you could possibly want about the current system.
    If you are concerned about EU work visas I am sure you can find the details yourself, now that you know that your rhetorical questions already have actual answers.

  • Reader

    Katyusha, and from a different perspective:
    The UK contains 60 million people. Some of them, a small proportion, are idiotic bastards. And, as idiotic bastards do, they commit the crimes they think they can get away with. Then they eventually discover they were wrong about that as they get caught. It might be domestic violence, football violence, hate crime, honour crimes or casual vandalism. Until the excitement dies down, there will be an increase in xenophobic hate crime.
    As for your point on freedom of movement. Yes, Ireland can offer freedom of movement, because the Common Travel Area is not in Schengen, and your Taoiseach is committed to preserving the CTA, as is our Prime Minister. You see; because of your existing links with the UK, your government still has some freedom of action.

  • Reader

    Kevin, are you suggesting that Ireland will exclude people from within these islands without an Irish Passport? That seems highly unlikely.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’m suggesting Schengen visas may be needed to be displayed at Rosslare Harbour and Dublin Airport to fly out to France or Spain.

    How would France or Spain know if the Briton was an illegal immigrant or not, not meaning an EU citizen?

    I mean France and Spain and several other EU nations might find many of Britain’s ideas very attractive to use against them.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I would draw a line between real fears and a scare story … It’s fairly clear some were overboard sensitivities but others were manufactured claptrap.

    McNarry “Army to the border” stuff was hysterics but it came from a real place.

    Farage’s “Breaking Point” issue was manufactured propaganda.

    I’m disappointed that skepticism and anxiety on both sides gets lumped in with the propaganda.

  • ted hagan

    Time to get on with things? I think you are ducking out of ‘things’.

  • ted hagan

    You have a habit of ducking out of difficult questions.

  • eireanne3

    “Where once I was “non-foreign” in the most commodious sense”,
    here’s a top secret document showing how to discern whether one is a foreigner

  • Reader

    Kevin Breslin: I’m suggesting Schengen visas may be needed to be displayed at Rosslare Harbour and Dublin Airport to fly out to France or Spain.
    So Rosslare Harbour and Dublin Airport will be exactly like Dover Harbour and Heathrow Airport, then?

  • chrisjones2

    Corbyn is doing his best to support the latter

  • chrisjones2

    But who owns the cocoa!!!!!

  • chrisjones2

    Its not just that. Genetically we are all the same

  • chrisjones2

    There seems huge confusion here. I have never seen a serious suggestion that we stop all MOVEMENT of people. It is not an issue of MOVEMENT. What we need controls on are RESIDENCE and WORKING

    If a German or Pole or American or Chinese person wants to come here as a visitor to stay with relatives or as a tourist and is no burden on the state and not working here then why should we object? If they want to come as a tourist for say up to 6 months at a time again, what is the issue? If they want to study here they may need a visa and if they want to work we can have a reasonably liberal visa regime for all areas of the economy where that benefits the wider community. In some cases this may lead on to them becoming naturalised citizens. Again, whats the problem with that?

    The point is that our Government controls the process

  • Kevin Breslin

    Nope, Irish people won’t need Schengen visas or passes, British people will. The visa-free travel rights for both nationalities may be significantly different now, UK may need visas for Schengen nations which Irish don’t, but unlike the Irish they will not need visas to get to Suriname or Burundi.

    But you do have a point Dover Harbour or Heathrow Airport the UK should probably allow Irish people and other EU citizens to get to the continent without such things, while British people obey the rules for the EEA outsiders.

    I assumed the UK would resort to bad faith against the EU nations in their own nation. That’s where the non-Common part of the Common Travel Area will exist.

    I don’t see any reason why Irish people should be punished for British bad faith and self-indulgence.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’m sure continent with nearly 50 nations crammed onto it does have close relationships.

    Germany and Austria, Spain and Portugal, Sweden and Norway, heck Greece and Italy too.

  • Kevin Breslin

    A very good point, but physiologically speaking we’re not much different from Muslims, Refugees or Romanians.

  • Roger

    Luxembourg too I think.

  • Roger

    That’s cleared everything up. Thanks.

  • Roger

    Isn’t it also the country to the north of it?

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    You do have a rather unfortunate habit of stating the blindingly obvious for no discernible reason.

    If I can translate from your latest piece of ephemera; of course cross-border ties exist throughout Europe. However to suggest that they mirror the longevity and depth of the experience in these islands is to stretch things too far.

    I wonder why you seek to downplay the British-Irish connection, by suggesting that the same scale of relationship is mirrored across the continent?

  • Oggins

    An evil secret society… ????

  • Reader

    Kevin Breslin: the UK should probably allow Irish people and other EU citizens to get to the continent without such things
    The EU will decide that.

  • Kevin Breslin

    However to suggest that they mirror the longevity and depth of the experience in these islands is to stretch things too far. I wonder why you seek to downplay the British-Irish connection, by suggesting that the same scale of relationship is mirrored across the continent?

    Ireland is not even Britain’s closest European cousin or the European nation it shares most of its history with. That my friend would be France. The island of Britain is geographically closer to France than Ireland, and for many people in Britain they are far more likely to want to go to France than cross the Irish Sea.

    Don’t get me wrong Ireland’s probably second, but France is definitely first.

    Even today there is more concern in English papers about what happens in Calais or the EU than what happens in Belfast or Dublin. There are far more French players playing in the Premier League than there are Irish and Northern Irish put together.

    From the Roman Empire to the Normans to the wars over Calais to the Entente Cordial, to Farage and Le Pen sharing common soap boxes. Britain has shared more common experiences with France than it has ever done with Ireland.

    The pound sign is French, British Monarchies have been French, even the Channel Islands have been French.

    Even in terms of British history –

    * William the Conqueror beats the Duke of Wellington

    * The Bayeux Tapestry beats the Book of Kells.

    * The Somme beats The Home Rule Crisis.

    I would argue in terms of sheer longevity and depth Anglo-French relations are deeper and longer than Irish ones.

    Ireland was a mere 800 year old colonial asset, and occasional backdoor threat to Europe before it. In many ways Ireland is no more different to India or Rhodesia or Australia.

    Ignore St Patrick (who some argue was French anyway) and there is really not much the Great Britain would say about common culture with pre-Plantation Ireland. Maybe common Celticism, but that’s not at the foreground of modern British thinking.

    We both share a similar Neolithic archaeology with Britain, but so did Britain with the rest of Europe, except due to the fact Ireland avoided the Roman Empire Ireland’s Neolithic archaeology lasted longer.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The EU will be bound by treaty to treat Irish without discrimination, treaties that the UK wishes to rip up. The UK deprived of absolute EU travel rights might stifle Irish and other EU people from going to the continent or to Ireland out of jealousy.

  • Kevin Breslin

    My point is that I fear that the UK government right now by failing to acknowledge the causes of protectionism, are actually even logically backward than Donald Trump in terms of trade border policy.

    The UK political establishment seems incapable of analyzing what it means and what needs to be done to get it.

    Of course the European Union and the United Kingdom will both be protectionist in these difficult times, and of course that will cause difficulties on the border.

    There won’t be a fully comprehensive free trade deal, and both parties will be responsible for that. You cannot have a fully comprehensive free trade deal without being in a single market.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    Desperate stuff. When in a hole………

  • Kevin Breslin

    France and England has a much deeper history than England and Ireland do. People were going from France to England long before they went from England to Ireland.

    English and French share a navy too.

    Maybe Farage and Le Pen are thinking of a glorious flag waving walled new European Union Empire of Britain and France, or relive the Allied Days.

  • Escape from the EUSSR asylum

    Who cares?! Brian Walker is obviously NEITHER an English nor an Northern Ireland solicitor or barrister, practicing or otherwise! He obviously has absolutely no background in law! Anyone who actually has a pair of sharp eyes in English law would know that the Ireland Act 1949 (1949I) (12, 13 & 14. Geo. 6.) (Chapter 41), although technically remains an unrepealed act, is actually NEVER a live law anywhere here in the United Kingdom, any more is Magna Carta, now. It is a “spent” law. In general usage here in the United Kingdom, the Ireland Act and the meaning and spirit of it are effectively circumvented by the use of the terms “United Kingdom” and “United Kingdom-only”.

  • Martio

    Because Oz and NZ etc were not part of the UK. Ireland once was.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “the relationship between ourselves and our neighbours over in the UK”
    Spot the deliberate mistake.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Graham Linehan asks, does anyone remember voting for a far right government … well, the voters in their wisdom voted in a Conservative government. They have been doing hard right things for years – look at the ridiculous mess they made of the economy 2010-2013 with bodged attempts at austerity when they should have been investing and rebalancing the economy. It’s the fact we’ve had hard right people in charge since 2010 that has got us in this Brexit mess.

  • Declan Doyle


  • MainlandUlsterman

    Not spotted it yet?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    the truth is the Irish have an in-between status here – recognised as from another country but not “foreign”. In reality we tend to reserve the word “foreign” for people not from the English-speaking world. A linguistic glitch perhaps but it says something I think about how we unthinkingly grade people. Being able to talk to them fluently, both in our native tongues, is a massive thing. We don’t think of Australians as foreign, or Americans for that matter. They come from another country, they are not British, but they are not foreigners. The Irish have a special place because of their numbers and continuity of their presence in mainland Britain as a sizeable population of incomers over decades and centuries – they are an inseparable part of British life. Of course the Republic used to be part of the UK too, but really the special status emotionally here, if not legally, is not down to that but to interwoven family histories and connections – and the English language. Something Heaney understood and a reason he is embraced as one of us, as well as being someone with different loyalties. For many of us, the English language binds us more than national loyalties divide us, across the English-speaking world.

  • Declan Doyle

    U ok dude?