The government has consistently said that it will do everything in its power to avoid a hardening of the Irish border whatever the circumstances (although it has also been argued that, in the event of a no deal Brexit, a ‘hard border would be inevitable’). The government said in December 2018 that British / Irish citizens will continue to be able to travel freely within the Common Travel Area (CTA) without seeking immigration permission from the authorities.
The Common Travel Area will continue
The government announced in December 2018 that, in the event of a no deal Brexit, there would be ‘no practical changes to the UK’s approach towards… (and)no immigration controls on, journeys within the CTA’. More talks are required in order to ensure that after Brexit there is‘a clear basis for the Common Travel Area in the UK and Ireland’s own legal systems, underpinned by an international agreement between the two countries’ (UK in a Changing Europe, Feb. 2019).A memorandum of understanding on social security was signed in February 2019 as part of this process. Meanwhile, the Immigration Bill currently moving through Parliament would tidy up out-dated provisions of the CTA in order to ensure that Irish nationals will have free access to the UK even if arriving here from another country.
Ireland is not, and does not plan to be, part of the Schengen area
EU citizens have, and will continue to have, free movement to Ireland. However, Ireland is not part of the Schengen area. This means that UK citizens travelling to the Republic will not be required to apply in advance for electronic authorisation under the EU’s ETIAS system (applying only Schengen countries) when this is scheduled to come online in 2021.
EU visitors etc could come direct to to the UK anyway
Both sides agree that short-term visits between the UK and EU after Brexit should remain visa-free, even in a no deal. So enforcement of the proposed requirement for EU citizens to obtain permission in order to live and work in the UK longer-term would be through in-country checks (for instance via employers who are legally required to check an prospective employee’s right to work in the UK) . A difference with regard to the enforcement of immigration requirements for other non-visa nationals who can already come to the UK for up to six months at a time would be in the question of passport checks at the physical border. While the passports of non-visa nationals are currently checked at the UK border (for instance, when arriving at Heathrow Airport), this would not occur for EU citizens coming to the UK via an open border with Ireland.
Risk of Irish border being used as backdoor to the UK by non-EU ‘visitors’
Non-EU nationals currently require an Irish visa to enter the Republic. However, if travelling on to the UK via the CTA, passengers do not routinely pass through primary immigration controls. Therefore, there is a risk of some non-EU citizens using the Irish border as a back door to the UK, including via direct flights between the Republic and main UK hubs. When the Home Office last made a public estimate of this, 316 people were detected to have travelled or attempted to travel illegally to or from Great Britain through Northern Ireland by sea or air (in the period January – September 2011).This is probably a manageable risk although it could develop into a more serious gap in border control arrangements if widely known about and taken advantage of. Tackling it will depend on the co-operation of authorities in Dublin and on checks on clandestine migration by UK personnel. A degree of cooperation in this respect already exists. Two operations aimed at tackling abuse of the CTA include the monitoring of international routes and ports between Ireland and Wales (e.g ferry services) and the monitoring of sea and air routes between Northern Ireland and western Scotland (Operation Gull), which saw nearly 800 people arrested or detained in Londonderry in the course of a single recent year (see report).