Leaving aside the delicious irony, I would guess that Sinn Fein are right: the attempt to limit recruitment for the UK Border Force to British passport holders is discriminatory and would be overthrown in court. Why should anyone have to produce a passport for a job in Northern Ireland anyway? This has echoes of the malign Windrush problem. without feeling the pain – yet, Up to now only when you go abroad and need to produce a passport has the issue of citizenship arisen ; but it is not quite as cut and tried as the unionist academic Graham Gudgin writes in the FT.
Brexit will make some sort of change to citizenship for Northern Ireland people, but exactly what change is far from clear. The ability of the European Court of Justice to disapply certain categories of UK legislation – only recently recognised in the UK – disappears after Brexit unless it is restored for NI in some form to remain compatible with the GFA legislation. If not there could be different rights for British and Irish citizens and that would surely be intolerable. What is hardly mentioned is that everybody in NI of whatever citizenship description, retain their full British citizen rights and entitlements if they move to GB and full Irish rights and entitlements if they move south .
Or so I believe. Perhaps like WIndrush cases, anomalies will be exposed under challenge but this has not happened so far. But Brexit may make the difference.
The legal situation is pretty recondite but behind it lies a political issue. If 40 % of the population call themselves Irish citizens, what leverage does that give the Irish government in the affairs of Northern Ireland if citizenship rights are no longer identical? How do citizens assert their citizenship preferences without displaying a passport and claiming different rights if rights eligibility diverges? The Border Force row could become a test case.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London