Irish citizens: entitlement to enter or remain without leave

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:00 pm ar 11 Mehefin 2020.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not expect this clause to be controversial, but given some of the evidence that we heard, it may be useful to set out one or two responses, especially the Government’s long-standing policy on deportation of Irish nationals. As Committee members will know, clause 2 protects the status of Irish citizens in the UK when free movement ends. British and Irish citizens have enjoyed a unique status and specific rights in each others’ countries since the 1920s as part of the common travel area arrangements.

Under clause 2, when free movement ends, Irish citizens will continue to be able to come to the UK without permission or restrictions on how long they can stay. British citizens, as you are probably aware, Sir Edward, enjoy reciprocal rights in Ireland, again reflecting the unique historical position of the Republic of Ireland and the UK.

The clause provides legal certainty and clarity for Irish citizens by inserting a new section 3ZA into the Immigration Act 1971. New section 3ZA will ensure that Irish citizens can enter and remain in the UK without requiring permission, regardless of where they have travelled from. This is already the position for those entering the UK from within the common travel area, but Irish citizens travelling to the UK from outside the common travel area currently enter under EEA regulations. This clause will remove that distinction by giving Irish citizens a clear status once free movement ends. While that may not have been impactive, it is there in a technical, legal sense, which is why this clause is necessary.

I welcome the written evidence on this issue that has been provided by Unison and the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association. The focus of the evidence is on the common travel area associated rights of British and Irish citizens, the equal treatment of citizenship as it relates to access to public services, and the possible deportation of Irish citizens. The Government are very clear that Irish citizens should not require leave unless they are subject to a deportation order, an exclusion decision or an international travel ban. Those exceptions are set out in this clause and reflect current and long-standing practice, which I understand was set out in a written ministerial statement in 2017 and remains the Government’s position.

I confirm that our approach is to deport Irish citizens only where there are exceptional circumstances or where a court has specifically recommended deportation, which is incredibly rare. Committee members will be aware that we made provision to ensure that, from 1 January 2021, Irish citizens would be exempt from the automatic deportation provisions in the UK Borders Act 2007. That exemption is contained in the Immigration, Nationality and Asylum (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, laid before the House in February last year. This clause also amends section 9 of the Immigration Act 1971 to confirm that restrictions placed on those who enter the UK from the common travel area by order under that section do not apply to Irish citizens.

Furthermore, the clause amends schedule 4 to the Immigration Act 1971, which deals with the integration of UK law and the immigration law of the islands: Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. That schedule provides, broadly, that leave granted or refused in the islands has the same effect as leave granted or refused in the United Kingdom. The amendments in clause 2 disapply those provisions in relation to Irish citizens, as they do not require leave under this clause. They also make it lawful for an Irish citizen—unless, of course, that citizen is subject to the restrictions referred to earlier—to enter the UK from the islands, regardless of their immigration status in the islands.

Clause 2 aims to support the wider reciprocal rights enjoyed by British and Irish citizens in the other state. As confirmed in the memorandum of understanding between the UK and Ireland, signed in May 2019, citizens will continue to be able to work, study, access healthcare and social security benefits, and vote in certain elections when in the other state. Following the evidence sessions on Tuesday, I make clear that once free movement rights end, and to the extent those rights are not protected by the withdrawal agreement, an Irish citizen in the UK will be able to bring family members to the UK on the same basis as a British citizen. Crucially, this is because Irish citizens are considered settled from the day they arrive in the United Kingdom. Taken with these wider rights, the clause supports the citizenship provisions in the Belfast agreement that enable the people of Northern Ireland to identify as British, Irish or both as they may so choose, and to hold both British and Irish citizenship.

Finally, I confirm that the Bill makes no changes to the common travel area or to how people enter the UK from within it. Section 1(3) of the Immigration Act 1971 ensures that there are no routine immigration controls on these routes, and this will continue, including on the Irish land border. Given the unique and historic nature of our relationship with Ireland and our long-standing common travel area arrangements, I hope Members will agree about the importance of this clause as we bring free movement to an end.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office) 12:15, 11 Mehefin 2020

I am grateful to the Minister for a lot of the clarification in his opening remarks. We welcome clause 2, and its content is indeed necessary. We will, however, be asking for some further assurances through new clause 27, largely to reaffirm what the Minister has just said. That new clause asks the Secretary of State to

“publish a report detailing the associated rights of the Common Travel Area”.

We heard from both Alison Harvey and Professor Ryan that although clause 2 is welcome and offers a degree of clarity as free movement rights are stripped away from both Irish and British citizens, as well as those in Northern Ireland who identify as both, there are some outstanding areas that require further clarification, including the scope of reciprocal rights under the common travel agreement. Clause 2 shows that many of the rights granted to Irish citizens through the common travel area are facilitated through freedom of movement. If not in the present Bill, do the Government plan to legislate to enshrine the provisions of the common travel area as reciprocal rights, rather than purely as changeable administrative arrangements, and, if so, when?

As Professor Ryan highlighted on Tuesday, more must be done to clarify the status of acquisition of British nationality, for British-born children, children born to Irish parents and Irish citizens wanting to naturalise. At the moment it is incredibly hard to ascertain the exact immigration status of those individuals and to know, for example, whether they have time limits on their visas or have ever breached immigration laws. If the Government truly want to redefine the British immigration system, they must answer those questions to clear up the ambiguity surrounding British citizenship law.

I am sure that the Minister will understand some of the nervousness about deportations. He referred to it in his opening remarks on the clause. To give the Committee some context to work with, I asked Professor Ryan at column 35 in the evidence sitting on 9 June whether he was aware of examples in recent history when an Irish citizen had been deported, either because a court had recommended deportation on sentencing, or because a Secretary of State had concluded, owing to the exceptional circumstances of the case, that the public interest required deportation. If I am not mistaken, the Scottish National party spokesperson also put a similar question to Alison Harvey. No specific examples could be provided. If the Minister is aware of any, I should welcome it if he would share them with the Committee to support the discussion.

We still do not know the Government’s proposed threshold for deportation of Irish citizens. It would be helpful if that could be clarified. Ideally, the Government would enshrine that in legislation or at least make a commitment during the passage of the Bill to state explicitly how deportation and exclusion will be used for Irish citizens in future. Professor Ryan has said that owing to the arrangements in the common travel area the threshold for deportation and exclusion of Irish citizens is notionally higher than that of other nations. Seemingly, it is more rarely, if ever, exercised.

As I have mentioned, the Good Friday agreement allows people born in Northern Ireland the right to identify exclusively as Irish or British, or as both. Irish citizens are referred to in the Bill, so can we assume that that reference includes Northern Ireland-born citizens who do not identify as British? If so, will the Minister make it clear in the Bill that people in Northern Ireland who identify exclusively as Irish, per the Good Friday agreement, are exempt from deportation and exclusion?

Without such a commitment, there is inevitably some anxiety. Alison Harvey made a case for mitigating the risk through the right to abode. If that were implemented, it would guarantee a raft of citizenship rights, so I welcome feedback from the Minister on that approach. As well as clarifying the status of Northern Irish citizens who identify solely as Irish, the right to abode would also alleviate the loophole through which someone with an Irish passport is not granted protections on arriving in the UK, because they have travelled from a country outside the common travel area.

We are supportive of the clause and will not oppose it, but will return to some of its content in debate on new clause 27.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

Given what the Minister and shadow Minister have said, I can, I hope, be helpfully brief. I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying the position on deportation, but the shadow Minister raises a reasonable point. The Minister has clarified the policy— but why not put it on the face of the Bill? I very much welcome the Minister’s confirmation of how Irish nationals will be able to come from outside the CTA with family members. It is a welcome clarification.

I want briefly to refer to the broader issue of common travel area rights. We are often told about the historic common travel area, and the fact that the rights go back many decades. That is true, but in recent years most of those rights have become embedded in and entangled with free movement rights. In the Bill, we are repealing those rights but not replacing them with common travel area rights. The Government keep talking about reciprocal rights, but we need them to be set down in statute.

So far, as the Minister said, there seems to be a non-binding memorandum of understanding with the Government of Ireland, and a Government position paper, setting out the fact that there will be rights to work, study, social security and healthcare access, and vote. For the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, essentially those CTA rights are “written in sand” and for the Committee on the Administration of Justice the CTA can be characterised by loose administrative arrangements of provisions that can be altered at any time. So we need to return to this issue of when we will actually see a detailed scheme of rights for the common travel area.

There is some urgency about this matter, because at the moment, for example, there are people in Northern Ireland who choose to be Irish citizens and who have the option of applying under the EU settled status scheme, but they will have to make that decision without really knowing how the benefits of the EU settled status scheme compare with the benefits of the common travel area scheme, because that has not been spelled out in great detail yet. There are practical issues that have been flagged up by the organisations I have mentioned about cross-border rights to access healthcare and education, and so on. All these questions need to be answered, and fairly urgently.

Finally, I will echo what the shadow Minister said about Alison Harvey’s evidence on the right of abode, and I would be interested to know whether the Government are considering achieving some sort of resolution of these issues by using the right of abode. However, we will return to these issues when we debate the new clause that the shadow Minister has tabled.

I welcome clause 2, but we still have a considerable way to go in making sure that the common travel area persists and works properly, and that folk know where they stand.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the SNP and Labour spokespersons for their overall support of the clause. I think I have been clear that there is a very strong commitment to the common travel area. Elements of its operation are inevitably required due to the provisions of the Belfast agreement, which is actually international law; it is a treaty between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, so it is not something that can just be amended on a whim. Far from it—it is underpinned by the strong consent of both communities, north and south, as expressed in referendums at the time it went through.

The commitment of both Governments to the common travel area has persisted for decades and will continue to do so. Irish citizens can apply to the European settlement scheme. I do not see any detriment that would come to them from doing so, but neither is there a requirement for them to do so, given the clarity that the clause brings to their rights within the United Kingdom. To be absolutely clear, the clause looks to remove that difference in the technical definition between an Irish citizen who has arrived in the United Kingdom on, for the sake of argument, the Eurostar from France, as opposed to arriving in the United Kingdom on a plane from Dublin.

It is probably worth saying that it would be interesting to work out how that definition could have actually affected someone’s life, apart from some of their more theoretical rights. However, I will be clear on that front that the Bill removes that difference. For an Irish citizen within the United Kingdom, it applies regardless of which country they travel from—whether they have travelled to the United Kingdom from within the common travel area or, for example, from the United States of America—[Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. Member for Halifax was reassured by that.

Effectively, Irish citizens become identified —I accept that this is perhaps a slightly controversial thing to say in the context of people’s identity—as British in our system of migration. Effectively, their Irish passport becomes equivalent to a UK national’s passport.

As for the provisions around deportation, I was asked whether there was a particular example. My officials in the Home Office have spent some time over the last week or two trying to find an example under current legislation —not under legislation, perhaps, from previous eras—of someone being deported from the United Kingdom to the Republic. We struggled; so far, I cannot find a specific example. I do not see any Member of the Committee who is about to jump up and give me an example, in order to contradict me on that point.

In particular, we are not aware of there ever having been, even at the heights of the troubles, a particular stream of deportation from Northern Ireland into the Republic. Partly, that is because we would all have to question the practical effect of deporting someone from County Londonderry to County Donegal; how on earth would anyone effectively enforce that in any way? Also, however, the spirit between the two Governments has been very much that we respect the rights of those who are there and, to be clear, that is set out in a 2007 written ministerial statement. That was not done under a Government formed by my party. The written ministerial statement has been there for 13 years. I wrote to the Irish Government about the fact that the provisions were in the Bill, and we have not received negative representations. The minimum threshold would have to be an offence that carried a 10-year prison sentence, so we are talking about very serious criminal offending, and the court would have to recommend it.

It is not right to specify such things in a Bill. There might be a circumstance around national security, but it would have to be exceptional, given the very good relationship we enjoy with the Republic of Ireland. I understand it does not have provision in its law for the deportation of UK citizens, although I am not an authority on the law of the Republic of Ireland. If, for example, the four neo-Nazis who were convicted this week decided to head to Dublin, and the Irish Government decided that that was not conducive to public order in Ireland, I do not think we would object if they decided they did not wish to have those people in the Irish Republic. The clause brings clarity and ends the technical legal distinction. It sets out clearly in primary legislation the position of Irish citizens in the United Kingdom.

The scope of the Bill is narrow. It is not intended to set out nationality provisions. We had a long debate about that. The Government are not looking to introduce right of abode for people of Northern Ireland, but we will remain steadfast in our commitment under international law to the Belfast agreement and what it symbolises in the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.