Moved by Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick
71: Clause 71, page 74, line 16, at end insert—“(c) the individual is travelling to Northern Ireland on a local journey from the Republic of Ireland.”Member’s explanatory statementUnder this amendment, persons who are neither British nor Irish would nevertheless be able to make local journeys from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland without the need for an Electronic Travel Authorisation.
My Lords, Amendment 71 in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and my noble friend Lord Coaker was tabled in Committee and is brought back on Report because of the serious implications of Clause 71 for the cross-border economy between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. There are also social and health implications. With the utmost sincerity, I do not think that the Government have fully considered this issue. I am a member of the protocol scrutiny sub-committee in your Lordships’ House, which has discussed this issue. We wrote to the right honourable and noble Baroness, Lady Williams, received a response which we were not happy with, and have written again.
Clause 71 amends the Immigration Act 1971 to introduce these electronic travel authorisations. This provides for a pre-entry clearance system that requires anyone who does not need a visa, entry clearance or other specified immigration status to obtain authorisation before travelling to the UK, including on journeys within the common travel area, which the UK and Ireland are part of. Indeed, the present clause has been expressly formulated to ensure that CTA journeys are captured.
Obviously, as I said earlier, this system does not apply to British or Irish citizens, and it appears that the UK Government intend the scheme to apply on the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, of which there are about 300 crossings on a very tortuous line, but this looks to be in breach of the rights provisions of Article 2 of the protocol. It also shows a total lack of understanding of this border, which has many crossings. Home Office Minister Kevin Foster confirmed that the ETA will involve payment of a fee and an online application.
However, I am more concerned about the economic, social and health consequences of Clause 71 for the people who live along the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, particularly those who are not Irish or British citizens, of which there are many, and many of them contribute to the economy in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and have family who reside on the other side of the border.
Concerns have been raised about the impact of ETA on business, health, tourism, and recreational issues, as non-visa nationals in the Republic of Ireland would be required to obtain an ETA before a visit to Northern Ireland, a fact that has been recognised and raised by the Irish Government because it would have an impact on tourism to Northern Ireland. Many people travelling to Dublin Airport and Shannon Airport journey north to examine the beauty and potential of our tourism in Northern Ireland. In the context of an invisible land border that British and Irish citizens can freely cross, it is eminently foreseeable that many other people who have hitherto been able to similarly cross the border without any prior permission will largely be unaware of this ETA requirement.
The written response from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, to our committee some weeks ago, and the response from the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, in Committee to me do not adequately address the situation. They do not provide for the exemption to the ETA requirement for non-Irish British citizens who enter Ireland legally or are legally resident in Ireland and who do not currently require permission to enter the UK for short-term cross-border travel from Ireland to Northern Ireland. The noble Baroness’s points around enforcement in her letter, and the noble Lord’s response in Committee some weeks ago, are unclear and apparently inconsistent. While the letter states that the Government will not criminalise those who are simply living their everyday lives, the scheme as has been outlined would do exactly that for large numbers of people who currently cross the border without restrictions to access essential services, support supply chains, for education or visiting family.
It is worth pointing out that the UK’s ETA proposals would also undermine several core areas of north/south co-operation as set out in strand 2 of the Good Friday agreement. In this respect I, along with other noble Lords, have concerns on the areas of tourism and healthcare. Many of these were raised in Committee on this amendment. The ETA proposals threaten to undermine the mandate of Tourism Ireland as an all-island body set up under the framework of the Good Friday agreement, which exists to promote tourism on the island of Ireland, and disproportionately impact the sector in Northern Ireland. As I said before, most tourists enter the island via Ireland’s ports and airports, and 70% of the £1 billion tourism spending in Northern Ireland comes from foreign visitors.
The ETA scheme would also undermine established cross-border healthcare service provision and the recently signed UK-Ireland CTA healthcare memorandum of understanding, which establishes entitlement on the basis of residency. Healthcare in border regions is highly integrated—I think of Newry and County Louth, Craigavon and Monaghan, Fermanagh and Cavan, Altnagelvin and Letterkenny in County Donegal—with the closest service often across the border, including jointly funded cancer and cardiac services based in Northern Ireland and vice versa.
In this context, I ask the Minister: what discussions have taken place with the Irish Government? I know that the Minister for European Affairs in the Republic of Ireland met Home Office Minister Kevin Foster last week here in London. What was the outcome of those discussions? What discussions have taken place with Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office. I note that a Minister from the Northern Ireland Office is sitting here in the Chamber tonight. I would like to know what discussions have taken place to highlight the issues and problems and the very practical economic, social and health implications that these will have throughout the island. Have there been discussions with civic society—with the businesses that will be impacted, which gain from the employment of many of these people on a cross-border basis? Will there be any exemptions or special arrangements for people crossing the land border frequently from the Republic of Ireland? It would be preferable if ETA requirements did not exist, or were not required from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland.
I say to the Government Front Bench that we are discussing something with political, economic, social and health consequences. It would be preferable if this section did not relate to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, because it will have severe implications and impact on our day-to-day work and living. That is the important consideration. It is ridiculous nonsense for this to be included in this part of the Bill, because it does not take account of those economic, social or health consequences.
In such circumstances, I ask the Minister to declare tonight that the Government will withdraw this provision. If not, will they come back at Third Reading to do so? If I do not get those undertakings here tonight, I will definitely press this amendment to a vote. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will keep my remarks brief as the case for this amendment has been made so very powerfully this evening by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie.
When we debated this amendment in Committee, I raised several areas of concern regarding these proposals for the ETA requirements. In his response, the Minister confirmed that these proposals would not result in any kind of checks on the Irish land border, which is very much to be welcomed. But as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, said, it remains far from clear how these ETAs will be enforced in practice. In the many thousands of border crossings that take place every day for work, leisure, family or educational purposes, there is currently no expectation or need to carry a passport. Given the very special circumstances of the land border on the island of Ireland, and further to his responses in Committee, I ask the Minister to expand this evening on how this scheme will work in practice.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, I remain concerned about the potential impact of these proposals on the Northern Ireland tourist industry. Does the Minister accept that these proposals may deter international visitors who have flown into the Republic of Ireland from visiting Northern Ireland during their stay because of the additional financial and bureaucratic requirements that they will entail? Have the Government carried out an impact assessment of the effect of these measures on the Northern Ireland tourist industry? I hope the Minister can respond to this this evening, as he did not when I asked the same question in Committee.
Given the special circumstances and potential negative impact of these proposals on Northern Ireland and Ireland, I believe they have not been properly thought through. I therefore urge the Government to think again and accept this amendment.
My Lords, I support this amendment. At this late hour I will not go into everything I said in Committee, but I live on the border and see it every day. I deal with and know people who cross the border every day. I know of many people who do not have Irish or British passports. They are not citizens of either country. Many of them are eastern Europeans who have remained and who work on both sides of the border, sometimes at the same time.
We heard about healthcare from the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. The whole healthcare drive has been an all-Ireland drive to provide services of the best quality in Ireland. Your Lordships will be well aware in GB that, because of the land mass, it is sometimes better to have centres of excellence. There are therefore health staff and, just as in Great Britain, many of them are not British—and we are now trying to inhibit their crossing the border.
Before I go any further and talk about other areas, I must declare my interests in that, first, I am involved in tourism and, secondly, my brother is chairman of the organisation mentioned, Tourism Ireland. Nobody has lobbied me on this at all, not even him. When I rang him about it, he was not quite able to give me the figures I wanted, so this is not an “I’m telling you what I’ve been told” scenario at all.
I want to look at what the Minister said in reply, because we have heard that a lot of it was perhaps slightly muddled. I think it is worse than that. It was contradictory. First, in talking about the costs in tourism the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, ventured to say:
“I looked that up this morning in anticipation of this, and it is currently $14”, so to him it was “not overwhelming”. People will be well aware that air passenger duty has been a bone of contention in this country and in Ireland, especially because in the Republic it was always lower than in the United Kingdom. I am aware that the Chancellor announced that because of the stress on tourism, he was going to lower it for internal travel throughout the United Kingdom but also, I believe, that it would be devolved to Northern Ireland for international travel.
If the Government attach so much importance to that and consider it significant—I think it was being lowered from something like £10 or £12 to £6 or £7—why did the Minister tell us that this is not significant? Is it or is it not? If it is not, why did they change it? I will tell the House why. In effect, the Government have just resurrected it by doubling it in order to bring this measure in. So, it does matter, which is not what the Minister said.
I then looked at the next paragraph. The Minister said:
“There will be no controls whatever on the Northern Ireland land border. Individuals will be able to continue to pass through border control at first point of entry to the common travel area.”
In many cases, the first point of entry is in the Republic of Ireland, so is the Republic going to administer this visa? I suggest that it will not, so this does not tie up.
Next, the Minister said the following:
“As is currently the case, individuals arriving in the UK, including those crossing the land border into Northern Ireland”.
I hesitate to say this, and correct me if I am wrong, as the Minister may have walked up and down our border many times without my noticing it, but I suggest that he would not have a clue where the border was. That is not me laughing at this. He would not have a clue, as there are no markings on the road. He might stop at a shop on either side, which takes euros or pounds. There is nothing else, but I will give him a lead: the telephone boxes in the Republic are yellow. If you see one of those, you know you have “crossed the border”. However, there is no border, so who are these visas for? It is absolutely clear that there is nobody to inspect them, so what are the Government going to do?
The Minister also said that the Government are going to use
“a variety of communication channels”.—[
Excuse me, but it is almost laughable to say there would be communication in the Republic of Ireland to tell people that they cannot come north and vice versa if they do not have Irish passports.
I am sorry, but the reason for having legislation is to enforce it. This provision is not unenforceable because people refuse to have it enforced, but because it is totally unenforceable under those circumstances. This amendment is therefore not that logical—I think it is getting them out of a hole, but the Government are not prepared to look at the hole they are in. This may not be the most vital thing in the world, even if it is to us; it is a tiny thing.
The noble Baroness also mentioned the protocol. I am not talking about the protocol, because clearly, the Government have not used it as the excuse for not doing this. This is therefore basically outside the protocol, which has no bearing.
However, on the protocol, we all know, and we agree with them, that the Government put in place an incredibly bad arrangement, depending on which way you look at it. They are trying to alleviate it on the one hand, and they have brought out something to dump on top of it on the other. We have a saying in Lough Erne in Fermanagh: “I didn’t come up Lough Erne in a bubble.” It looks as if the Government did, because it seriously is unworkable.
That is all I am going to say, except perhaps ask the Minister to define the hard border. He says in his script: “There is no hard border; there is no hard border; there will never be a hard border.” What is a hard border? I do not know what the definition is, but it is where documents are checked or people have to stop. He is absolutely right that there is no hard border. Therefore, there is no border to make these checks. I suggest that the Government agree to this amendment.
My Lords, I appeal to the Minister, especially as I hope he has received some expert advice from his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Caine, who, as a Northern Ireland Minister, is respected on all sides of the House. He knows his stuff, and that is a big plus. The noble Viscount has explained in practical detail why it is essential either to accept this amendment or to withdraw the provision and come back at Third Reading without it. My noble friend Lady Ritchie has underlined that with an eloquent speech, which I really hope the Minister has listened to carefully.
This is not a party issue or an Opposition versus Government issue; this is a Northern Ireland issue. I worry that in the construction of this Bill and this particular provision, Ministers have been thinking about everybody except Northern Ireland. That, I am afraid, is far too often the case. Their whole approach to Brexit has neglected Northern Ireland and deeply offended unionists for reasons I completely understand, including the former Government supporters who kept the Conservatives in power for a couple of years—the DUP. In Whitehall, there seems to be a default position in which Northern Ireland does not register when Bills are framed. I am afraid this is a very good example.
May I underline the points of my noble friend Lady Ritchie and the noble Viscount, made with a great deal of practical advice, about the operation across the border? The border, in everyday life for those who live either side, does not exist. People cross the border all the time and work, receive healthcare, get blood transfusions and receive educational opportunities and provision from either jurisdiction. I could go on, but time is short. It is terribly important to keep momentum going following the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, knowing that is the case. These unhappy residents, who are entitled to all these provisions by their residency rather than their nationality—they may be Polish, Lithuanian or all sorts of nationalities—and who provide essential services to people on both sides of the island of Ireland could be caught by this. This is a practical issue.
As surveys have shown, most Northern Ireland tourists who leave Northern Ireland to go to Europe, America or the rest of the world go via Dublin. Equally, most incoming tourists to Northern Ireland come via Dublin. If, in addition to the other issues involved, they will have to pay a fee—nominal, you may argue, but it is an additional hurdle—to benefit from Northern Ireland’s beauty and opportunities and bring much-needed income to Northern Ireland, especially to businesses suffering from an absence of tourists because of Covid, this is really damaging.
Can I also bring to the Minister’s attention the proposal, with cross-party support, to have Rally Ireland, which crosses the border, in the international FIA calendar for the world rally championships? The proposal put this year did not succeed but it is being strongly and widely backed for next year. This will affect Rally Ireland and the practical implications have not been thought through.
I refer to the detailed 1,000-word letter of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, who is chair of the Lords protocol committee, on which I sit, along with my noble friend Lady Ritchie. I have it in front of me, but I will not read it out this evening because the hour is late. It asks all sorts of questions about the reply from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, to the series of questions that our committee asked. I am afraid that, given her normal standards, it was a very unsatisfactory reply, which reinforces my concern that Northern Ireland has not really been thought of.
The letter asks a series of detailed questions. For example, it asks for an estimate of the number of people crossing the border who will have to get ETAs, possibly for every crossing that they make—this could conceivably be a number of times every day. There does not seem to be any estimate of the number of people caught. The letter also refers to the detailed briefing on the Bill given by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which have made a series of recommendations for very important amendments to the Bill to avoid damage being done to the policy agenda in Northern Ireland to take the process of peace and reconciliation forward.
I strongly appeal to the Minister to reconsider and give an undertaking either to come back with a reframed provision or, preferably, to delete this; otherwise, I will certainly vote in favour of my noble friend Lady Ritchie’s amendment.
My Lords, I did not intend to take part in this debate, but, given the description of life in County Fermanagh of the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, I have been tempted to participate, because I too was brought up there, just a few miles from the border. As someone who now lives about 20 miles from the border, I am always interested in hearing descriptions of life on the border from those who are not often in Northern Ireland or, indeed, the Irish Republic. But we should take very seriously indeed those who comment with real experience of living there—I am talking about not just myself but the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, who also does not live very far from the border.
Noble Lords have raised a number of practical issues that affect the common travel area. We need to remember that this has been of immense value and benefit to the people of the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic over many years, predating the European Union. It has existed for many decades, and we should cherish it and do everything possible to remove any travel friction within it, regardless of our position on Brexit—certainly that was always our view.
It is also clear that there should not be any kind of barrier or checks along the border with the Irish Republic in relation to the movement of people—or goods, for that matter. That has always been very clear from the standpoint of my party and those who come from Northern Ireland.
Some people have said that there cannot be checks on the border for the practical reason of the 300 crossings, and all the rest of it—that has always been clear. Never mind the principle; the reality is that you cannot have that kind of checking along the border. No one wants that, and it cannot be done. For that reason, no one was ever advocating that there should be any kind of checks along the frontier between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
There is of course a border; sometimes there is not a visible sign of it, but in other parts of the Province there are visible signs of the border. I recently noticed that, on the road from Dublin up to Belfast, as you cross the border, there is now a sign saying, “Welcome to Northern Ireland”. It has thankfully not been defaced—many years ago such signs were constantly defaced. Maybe after reading this debate somebody might decide to go out and do that, but I hope not. Indeed, there is a camera at that part of the border. We were told at one stage there could not be any infrastructure along the border, but there has been a security camera there for many years, without any controversy.
We have a different fiscal regime, excise regime and currency, as well as different tax laws. There is a whole range of differences between north and south, and they are all managed not by checking anything at the border but by intelligence-led investigation at the destination that people or goods are travelling to. That has been the case for decades. For instance, when it comes to the investigation of fuel laundering, the authorities on both sides of the border co-operate very well and share intelligence. They do not do that along the border but they do investigate these matters. That is the way these things should be done.
The only thing I want to say to the House tonight is that all that having been said and accepted, we would say that exactly the same principles should apply between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. If all of this is correct about checks and there being no friction between north and south, that should equally apply between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and vice versa—east-west. You cannot have one principle for the north-south relationship and a completely different set of principles for the east-west relationship.
For instance, if the protocol was being properly and fully implemented today, and we did not have the grace periods—that were opposed by some Members of this House and the other House—people would be getting their luggage checked when they travelled between Northern Ireland and Great Britain or Great Britain and Northern Ireland in relation to some SPS and customs regulations. Pets cannot be brought from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland to Great Britain under EU laws—this is for British citizens travelling from one part of the United Kingdom to the other.
Therefore, all I say in relation to this matter is that of course we need to keep the border open and frictionless, with free movement and the rest, but let the same principles and passion for freedom of movement and no checks apply east-west as well as north-south. That is what is in the Belfast agreement, which the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, referred to. It is a three-stranded approach. The first strand is the internal Northern Ireland arrangement and strand 2 is the north-south arrangement. But we also have strand 3, which deals with east-west, and that has to be protected and preserved. The fact that it is not is at the root of the problems we are having with devolution in Northern Ireland at the current time.
I want to put that matter of principle, as it were, on the record, because it is important. I do not disagree with what has been said about the matter under consideration in this amendment but we must also consider ensuring that the principles of the Belfast agreement, as amended by the St Andrews agreement, are preserved and upheld in their entirety.
My Lords, it is always a tremendous pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dodds—I have been doing so for 20 years. I do not always agree with him but we agree on lots of things, and I agreed with much of what he said this evening: there is a special difference between dealing with these issues about Northern Ireland and dealing with things generally in the Bill.
The proposal by the Government is daft and it could be dangerous, and it is also utterly unnecessary. It has clearly been drawn up by people who know nothing about Northern Ireland—that is the difficulty. If only the architects of this proposal had talked to the Governments in Belfast or Dublin, or even to the Northern Ireland Office. And I absolutely agree, with great respect to the Minister who is winding up, that it should have been the noble Lord, Lord Caine, doing so—he is the one who knows a huge amount about Northern Ireland and presumably he would have been able to answer these questions with the experience of someone who has spent many years dealing with these issues.
The practical problems have been outlined well by my noble friends, such as the problem with tourism. One of the very first north-south bodies to be established was an all-Ireland tourist body. People come from all over the world to Ireland and want to see both ends. To impose this unnecessary restriction on them will jeopardise an industry that has been severely hit because of Covid over the last number of years. There are thousands of Lithuanians working in the Republic of Ireland, and probably a number in Northern Ireland, whose lives could easily be overturned by this—particularly those who work near the border, of course. They rely on common health facilities, as well as common shopping facilities.
As the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, and my noble friends have said, the border does not exist in the ordinary sense. It is not like a border anywhere else. One of the great issues which has been ignored in drawing up this silly proposal is that it ignores entirely what has been agreed for the last quarter of a century. In drawing up the Good Friday agreement, in which I played some part a long time ago, we believed that the border was crucial to the success of our talks. The border has hundreds of crossings; there is no apparatus checking on people going back and forth. The principle lying behind that lack of the border being a border, if you see what I mean, and the fact that it is invisible in many ways, was an integral part of the agreement. I shall not talk this evening about the protocol but that is another disaster, in the sense that it has caused difficulties in Northern Ireland, and we will come to it on another occasion. The resolution on the border was a hugely important and significant factor in the success of the Good Friday agreement, and this provision strikes at the heart of it.
The problem is not simply what is in this particular proposal—it is how the proposal was arrived at, how it was structured, and how people drew it up. That has been disastrous, because it has been done with no knowledge of how it could affect the Good Friday agreement or future proposals on the border itself.
The relations between the Republic of Ireland and our Government are at rock bottom at the moment, and this does not help; it makes it worse—and I bet your bottom dollar that there have been no real discussions between the two Governments, in the way that there should be.
This should be dealt with in the British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference—the agreement set that up. The noble Lord, Lord Dodds referred to strand 3 of the agreement—that is to say, the relationship between east and west. I chaired the talks, along with the Irish Minister, on setting that up, and one result of it was the British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference: a body including both Governments to deal with tricky issues. If this is not a tricky issue, I do not know what is. I bet your bottom dollar, too, that there has not been much discussion with the parties in Northern Ireland either, or with the Northern Ireland Executive or the Northern Ireland Assembly. No—it is a disaster.
The sooner that this provision is removed from this Bill, the better. I doubt that the Government will do it but, if they do not, it will just fall into a pattern, whereby Northern Ireland is put on the side and seen as a peripheral business. It will come back to bite them, and I urge the Government to withdraw the provision or accept this amendment.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Murphy, who articulated what I would think is the majority opinion in this House. This is one of those policy proposals from the Government in the Bill that defies belief. We have heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, and my noble friend Lady Ritchie about living on the border. The three people who live closer to the border than the rest of us say that what is before us is an absolute nonsense. It does not make sense. All I say to the Minister who will respond is: why would the Government resist something that everybody says is a nonsense?
How is it going to work? Who will enforce it? Has the Home Office agreed this with the Northern Ireland Office? What discussions have taken place? They may not be able to say it here, but we have a Minister from the Northern Ireland Office and Ministers from other parts of the Government. I cannot believe that the Northern Ireland Office thinks that this is a good or sensible idea.
What reaction has there been from the British Government to the Irish Government telling them that it is a nonsense? The Irish embassy has been on to many of us, in a very reasonable way, saying that it just will not work. It feeds into a belief that the Government somehow do not properly understand Northern Ireland. As the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, whatever the rights and wrongs of what people think about him—not about the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, but about what he said; I apologise. It is a good job he and I know each other well. It feeds into the narrative that the Government do not understand Northern Ireland, do not understand the architecture that has led over many years to the peace that we have had, and take many things there for granted. This is the latest example.
Clause 71 will require people who are not British or Irish citizens to have electronic travel authorisation to move from Ireland into Northern Ireland. I just reread it to make sure. I showed it to my noble friend Lady Smith and said, “Have we got this right?” How is it going to work? There are hundreds of crossings a day. Let us start to be practical about this. I live in Ireland. I am an Irish citizen. I have an American wife who works in Northern Ireland. What happens? Is she supposed to have an electronic travel authorisation every day, every week or once a year? If she does not have it, who enforces that? Who checks it? What arrangements take place for that? There has to be some arrangement, otherwise it is not worth it being in the Bill. There has to be something that happens, otherwise why is there a requirement to do it.
The practical arrangements are of real concern to people because they want to know what happens, so businesses in Northern Ireland and Tourism Ireland are raising concerns about it. The Government’s reaction is simply to ignore it or, without any proper explanation, say that there is not a problem.
What is the answer to people concerned about visiting family, accessing childcare and accessing the cross-border healthcare that we heard about from my noble friend Lord Hain? What is going on and why are the Government not listening to what people are saying? Specifically, have parts of the Government talked? Has the Home Office spoken to the Northern Ireland Office? Is there agreement between them? What have they said to the Irish Government? What are the answers to the practical questions that I have raised and particularly those raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough? How on earth is this going to work?
I very much support what my noble friend Lady Ritchie and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, said. This matter raises serious questions and the Government have to do more than say that it will be fine—it will be all right and do not worry about it. We have seen the consequences of that in other areas of life in Northern Ireland. The Government need to get a grip on this. It is absolutely ridiculous and the Government need to sort it out.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, for explaining her amendment so powerfully. I appreciate the intention behind it but the amendment would undermine the Government’s efforts to strengthen UK border control. The Government are clear: there will continue to be no routine immigration controls on journeys to the UK from within the common travel area and none at all on the land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. I am very familiar with the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and I appreciate that you often do not know whether you have crossed it. Individuals will not be required to carry or present any documents when crossing the land border, nor will British or Irish citizens require an ETA.
To protect both the UK immigration system and the common travel area from abuse it is important that, as now, all individuals arriving in the UK, including those crossing the land border into Northern Ireland, continue to enter in line with the UK’s immigration framework. This is a well-established principle of the operation of the common travel area, and it applies when travelling in all directions. Visa nationals are required to obtain a visa for the UK when travelling via Ireland, including when they are crossing the land border. Otherwise, they are entering illegally. That includes UK visa nationals resident in Ireland. This is a well-established requirement and we are simply extending the same principle to individuals requiring an ETA.
The amendment would result in an unacceptable gap in UK border security that would allow persons of interest or risk, who would be refused an ETA, to enter the UK legally, undermining the very purpose of the ETA scheme, which is to prevent the travel of those who pose a threat to the UK. It would also provide an opening for those looking to abuse our current CTA arrangements, which is obviously in no one’s interests.
Some noble Lords are concerned about the impact on tourism and the economy. The Government are committed to developing a clear communications strategy to tackle any misunderstandings about the requirements to travel to Northern Ireland. As has been pointed out, over the last decade Northern Ireland has been transformed and is now very much considered a “must see” tourism destination. We will continue to support tourism in Northern Ireland and to Northern Ireland by ensuring that the process for obtaining an ETA is quick and light touch. Successful applications will be approved within minutes of submission.
Regarding the impact on frequent cross-border travel, I want to first make clear that those with any form of existing UK immigration status, such as frontier worker permit holders, will not be required to obtain an ETA. For those who do require an ETA, the application process will be quick and, as I said, light touch, and the majority of applications will be approved within minutes. Once granted, an ETA will be valid for multiple journeys over an extended period, minimising the burden on those making frequent trips, including those across the Ireland-Northern Ireland border. As now, it will not require those crossing the land border to hold any particular physical documentation, as ETAs will be issued electronically.
In answer to the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, I was not comparing this with other forms of charge when I spoke on this previously at the Dispatch Box, and I certainly did not say that it did not matter. It obviously does matter, and I hope I did not sound as though I thought it was a trivial amount of money, because I do not.
The Government consider the scheme compliant with our commitments under the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.
I have been talking to my noble friend Lord Caine; I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, that he would have been much better at doing this than me. We have been having discussions with the Irish Government, as he is well aware. The UK has a close exchange with Ireland on all matters of bilateral interest, including this one, and we will continue to engage with Ireland as we develop this scheme. My noble friend assures me that he has been in contact with the Home Office. Having said all that, I appreciate that I will probably not have satisfied anybody in this House, but I nevertheless ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Before the noble Lord sits down, could I ask him about the potential impact on Rally Ireland, which is competing with other countries where this requirement will not be present? About 20 teams compete, with lots of non-British and non-Irish nationals in them, and they will each require multiple applications.
I asked my noble friend whether he was familiar with Rally Ireland, and he is not either. I will come back to the noble Lord with a specific answer. I had not heard of Rally Ireland before.
My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate. The noble Lords representing the Government should look to the Good Friday agreement, because that will provide the solutions to this issue. The North/South Ministerial Council, the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference deal with those east-west issues.
I have not heard anything from the Government that provides me with any consolation. I still ask them to come back at Third Reading with a possible amendment, but in this instance, I seek to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 141, Noes 107.