Irish citizens: entitlement to enter or remain without leave

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 26th February 2019.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 10:15 am, 26th February 2019

I beg to move amendment 29, in clause 2, page 1, line 11, at end insert—

“(1A) After section 2A insert—

Nothing in the Immigration Rules (within the meaning of this Act) shall lay down any practice that treats or provides for the family members of Irish citizens differently to the treatment or provision made for the family member of British citizens.’”

This amendment seeks to ensure that the family members of Irish citizens are treated in the same way as the family members of British citizens.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 28, in clause 2, page 2, line 13, at end insert—

“(6) The Secretary of State may not conclude that the deportation of an Irish citizen is conducive to the public good under section 3(5)(a) unless he concludes that a higher threshold is reached whereby deportation is in the public interest because there are exceptional circumstances.

(7) No person of any nationality is liable for deportation under section 3(5)(b) where he belongs to the family of an Irish citizen who is or has been ordered to be deported, unless subsection (6) is satisfied in respect of that Irish citizen.

(8) No Irish citizen is liable for deportation under section 3(6) where recommended for deportation by a court empowered under this Act to do so unless, thereafter, the Secretary concludes that his deportation is conducive to the public good in accordance with subsection (6).

(9) An Irish citizen may not be deported or excluded from the United Kingdom if they are among the ‘people of Northern Ireland’ entitled to identify as Irish citizens by virtue of Article 1(vi) of the British-Irish Agreement of 1998.”

This amendment would provide additional safeguards against deportation for Irish citizens.

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

Clause 2 concerns the special status of Irish citizens in the UK in immigration law. It is probably fair to say that although we often refer to the common travel area, and although we know how it works in practice and have a broad idea of the practical reasons why it exists, the actual law here is pretty obscure, vague and not very well understood. I apologise if I have maligned any Committee members who are in fact experts in this area of immigration law.

In recent years it probably has not been a concern, largely because free movement means that it has not really mattered. That now changes completely if free movement is stopped, and clause 2 is one of the steps that we need to take to ensure that the status of Irish citizens here is protected. Parts of clause 2 are welcome because, if clause 2 were not part of the law, although Irish citizens could still come to the UK without immigration control if they were coming from another part of the common travel area, if free movement ended they would have no such right if they arrived in the UK from outside the common travel area, whether on a plane from New York or a train from Paris. Clause 2 confirms the right of Irish citizens to enter and remain without permission—even if free movement rights end—irrespective of where they entered the UK from, unless they are subject to a deportation order, exclusion order or international travel ban.

The question is: does clause 2 go far enough? The evidence received in writing and heard at hearings suggests that it does not. There are other aspects of the special status that we need to have a look at as well. There is one sense in which clause 2 appears to undermine the special status afforded to Irish citizens, and that is in relation to deportation.

As Professor Ryan pointed out in his evidence, the clause provides that Irish citizens may be deported under the general deportation laws of this country—those that apply to everybody else—under the Immigration Act 1971. Those apply to: a person whose deportation the Secretary of State deems conducive to the public good, including under the controversial mandatory deportation provisions of the UK Borders Act 2007; a person whom a court recommends for deportation at the time of conviction for a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment; and a family member of a person who is or has been ordered to be deported.

The clause would also introduce a specific new power to exclude Irish citizens from the United Kingdom if the Secretary of State considers that to be conducive to the public good. However, in doing so the Bill does not imply any particular special protection regarding the threshold for the deportation or exclusion of Irish citizens. The stated policy of the Government in 2007, according to the then Immigration Minister, was:

“Irish citizens will only be considered for deportation where a court has recommended deportation in sentencing or where the Secretary of State concludes, due to the exceptional circumstances of the case, the public interest requires deportation.”—[Official Report, 19 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 4WS.]

That is a higher test than would be applied by clause 2, and we heard evidence suggesting that the clause would water down the position of Irish citizens. In that regard, it might be useful to note that, by virtue of their exemption from Irish immigration law, British citizens are completely immune from deportation and exclusion under Irish law. Indeed, other evidence sent to us from a group of academics goes further, and asks why, if Irish citizens are “not foreign” according to the Ireland Act 1949, we need to retain the power to deport them at all. Ireland has not retained the equivalent power.

Professor Ryan raised a further important question about whether, to comply with the Belfast agreement, there should be an exemption from deportation and exclusion for Irish citizens who are from Northern Ireland. Under the Belfast agreement, both Governments recognised the birthright of all people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves as, and be accepted as, Irish, British or both, as they may so choose. As Professor Ryan puts it:

“There is a risk that, as formulated, the deportation and exclusion clauses will fail to respect the right of a person from Northern Ireland who wishes to identify as an Irish citizen.”

He questions whether it is compatible with the Belfast agreement to require a person from Northern Ireland to assert their British identity in order to resist deportation to Ireland. There might even be circumstances in which UK nationality had been renounced.

Those are the issues that amendment 28 is designed to address. It seeks to enshrine in law what is supposedly current Government practice, instead of watering down that standard on deportation. It also seeks to ensure that clause 2 does not in any way undermine the Belfast agreement. I am sure that everyone in this room today would agree that it is important that we get these things right. My final observation in that regard is that, according to Professor Ryan, as I have said, there is no provision in Irish law to deport UK nationals.

Amendment 29 probes the Government, seeking an explanation of what the exact position will be of Irish nationals who seek to have family members join them—if and when the normal family rules in the immigration rules are applied to them. As we will come to later—perhaps today, or on Thursday—I absolutely hate those draconian and restrictive rules, but at least they are there, allowing British citizens and settled persons to be joined by family members. As Professor Ryan points out, the immigration rules will allow for UK citizens returning to the UK to be accompanied by non-UK or Irish family, and for UK citizens and settled persons already here to be joined by non-UK or Irish family. That last bit should apply simply enough to Irish nationals as well, because clause 2, if passed, would appear to mean that Irish persons would be treated as settled persons for the purposes of the rules. I should be grateful for confirmation that that is the case.

The second problem is that it seems, from the clause’s drafting, that Irish persons moving here with such family would not be able to use the rules in the way that a UK citizen could, because they would not yet be settled persons. The Irish person would need to come here first and become settled, and their family would join them later. Another issue is whether the rules in other respects will treat the family members of an Irish citizen in precisely the same way as they treat family members of UK citizens. In particular, if a UK national has a UK national child here, as we all know, the child would not cause the financial threshold to increase if any application was made by an overseas spouse to join them. Would the presence of an Irish citizen child of an Irish citizen result in the financial threshold being increased for any spouse coming to join that family?

Amendment 29 simply seeks to ensure that Irish citizens will be treated in the same way as UK nationals. I will not press it to a vote, however, because as the Committee on the Administration of Justice, a cross-community human rights organisation in Northern Ireland, rightly points out, it may need to be tweaked to ensure that it does not prevent Irish citizens from benefiting from the more favourable treatment that EU families may continue to enjoy for a period through retained EU law, in comparison with UK citizens and settled persons encumbered with the immigration rules. The amendment should probably preclude less favourable treatment rather than different treatment. The CAJ’s submission goes further, supporting the view of the human rights commissions that the common travel area is “written in sand” and warning of “other gaps”, including in relation to social rights.

I conclude with several questions for the Minister. Why do we seem to be watering down the rights of Irish nationals, including with respect to deportation? Are the provisions in danger of undermining the Belfast agreement in relation to people in Northern Ireland? Why not simply put current Government practice on deportation into statute? What provisions will there be for families of Irish nationals in future? Is the Minister willing to revisit the issue, so that we can ensure that the status of Irish citizens is properly and comprehensively protected, rather than being left to obscure practices and rules “written in sand”?

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 10:30 am, 26th February 2019

I echo the words of the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East. In essence, we agree that clause 2 is necessary, but we believe that it requires some improvements.

I have some questions for the Minister. First, the Good Friday agreement grants people who were born in Northern Ireland the right to identify and be accepted as exclusively Irish, as exclusively British or as both Irish and British. Does the reference to Irish citizens in the Bill, and therefore the Immigration Act 1971, include Northern Ireland-born Irish citizens who do not identify as British? Secondly, clause 2 highlights the fact that many associated rights of the common travel area are provided for only by virtue of free movement. When, if not in the Bill, will common travel area rights be legislated for to ensure that they are maintained on a clear legal footing? Finally, will the Minister make it explicit in the Bill that people in Northern Ireland who identify exclusively as Irish, as is their right under the Belfast agreement, are exempt from deportation and exclusion?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

I thank hon. Members for raising important issues linked to Irish citizens. It is important to recognise that British and Irish citizens have enjoyed a particular status and specific rights in each other’s countries since the 1920s as part of the common travel area arrangements.

Clause 2 will protect the status of Irish citizens. When free movement ends, it will allow them to continue to come to the UK without requiring permission and without any restrictions on how long they can stay. British citizens enjoy reciprocal rights in Ireland. The clause will provide legal certainty and clarity for Irish citizens by inserting new section 3ZA into the Immigration Act 1971 to ensure that they can enter and remain in the UK without requiring permission, regardless of where they have travelled from. That is already the position for those who enter the UK from within the common travel area, but Irish citizens who travel to the UK from outside the CTA currently enter under European economic area regulations. The clause will remove that distinction by giving Irish citizens a clear status.

I turn to the amendments tabled by the hon. Members for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, and for Paisley and Renfrewshire North. Amendment 29 would establish in legislation that the immigration rules cannot treat family members of Irish citizens differently from family members of British citizens. The common travel area arrangements have never included rights for the family members of British and Irish citizens. That is an approach that we intend to maintain, but the unique status of Irish citizens means that they are considered settled from the day on which they arrive in the United Kingdom. Irish citizens in the UK can therefore sponsor family members, in the same way as British citizens can. That is the position for those of all nationalities within the UK who are settled.

I also note that Irish citizens, in line with other EU nationals, can be joined in the UK by family members under the terms of the EU settlement scheme, but the amendment would prevent that. To be clear, Irish citizens are not required to apply for status under the EU settlement scheme to benefit from the family member rights, but they may apply if they wish. Under the settlement scheme in a deal scenario, close family members who are not already resident in the UK will be able to join an EU citizen—that includes Irish citizens—under the same conditions as now, where the relationship pre-existed the end of the implementation period. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East to consider withdrawing his amendment for the reasons that I have outlined.

Amendment 28 would introduce additional provisions regarding the deportation and exclusion of Irish citizens and their family members. I will use this opportunity to reiterate our approach to deporting Irish citizens in light of the historical community and political ties between the UK and Ireland, along with the existence of the common travel area. Irish citizens are considered for deportation only if a court has recommended deportation following conviction or if the Secretary of State concludes that, because of the exceptional circumstances of a case, the public interest requires deportation. We carefully assess all deportation decisions on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all the facts of the case.

In response to questions asked on Second Reading, I confirmed that the Government are fully committed to maintaining this approach. In that regard, Committee members will have noted that we are making provision to ensure that once we leave the EU, Irish citizens will be exempt from the automatic deportation provisions for criminality in the UK Borders Act 2007. That exemption is contained in the Immigration, Nationality and Asylum (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid before the House on 11 February. Therefore, proposed new subsections (6) and (8) are not needed.

As I have outlined, the UK’s approach is to deport Irish citizens only in exceptional circumstances or where the court has recommended it, which means that a family member of an Irish citizen would not be considered for deportation unless a deportation order was made in respect of that citizen in line with our approach. I also emphasise that the common travel area rights have always provided solely for British and Irish citizens. They have never specifically extended to the family members of British or Irish citizens, and we intend to maintain that approach.

With proposed new subsection (8) in mind, I must make it absolutely clear that the UK is fully committed to upholding the Belfast agreement and respects the right of the people of Northern Ireland to identify as Irish, British or both, and to hold both British and Irish citizenship as they choose. I recognise the centrality of those citizenship and identity provisions to the Belfast agreement. As I have said, deportation decisions are taken on a case-by-case basis, and we consider the seriousness of the criminality and whether it is in the public interest to require deportation.

Recognising the citizenship provisions in the Belfast agreement, we would consider any case extremely carefully and not seek to deport a person from Northern Ireland who is solely an Irish citizen. However, I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s interest in this matter and will continue to keep it under consideration. I therefore respectfully ask him to consider withdrawing his amendment for the reasons outlined.

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

I am grateful to the Minister for her detailed response. As I have accepted, amendment 29 is not perfect. I also accept her general reassurances about the treatment of Irish citizens’ families in the United Kingdom, so I will withdraw the amendment and reflect further on our position.

In relation to what the Minister said about deportations and amendment 28, it seems to me that we are mostly saying the same things, but our statements are reflected better in my amendment than in the clause. We seem to be saying the same thing, but reaching different conclusions about how to enshrine it in law. I am simply asking the Government to put their current practice into statute. I will give further thought to that, but for now I beg to ask leave to withdraw amendment 29.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 28, in clause 2, page 2, line 13, at end insert—

“(6) The Secretary of State may not conclude that the deportation of an Irish citizen is conducive to the public good under section 3(5)(a) unless he concludes that a higher threshold is reached whereby deportation is in the public interest because there are exceptional circumstances.

(7) No person of any nationality is liable for deportation under section 3(5)(b) where he belongs to the family of an Irish citizen who is or has been ordered to be deported, unless subsection (6) is satisfied in respect of that Irish citizen.

(8) No Irish citizen is liable for deportation under section 3(6) where recommended for deportation by a court empowered under this Act to do so unless, thereafter, the Secretary concludes that his deportation is conducive to the public good in accordance with subsection (6).

(9) An Irish citizen may not be deported or excluded from the United Kingdom if they are among the ‘people of Northern Ireland’ entitled to identify as Irish citizens by virtue of Article 1(vi) of the British-Irish Agreement of 1998.”—

This amendment would provide additional safeguards against deportation for Irish citizens.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 9, Noes 10.

Division number 2 Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill — Irish citizens: entitlement to enter or remain without leave

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

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

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

As I said in response to the amendments tabled by the hon. Members for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East and for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, the clause will protect the status of Irish citizens in the UK when free movement ends. Without the clause, as Professor Ryan explained in evidence to the Committee, when freedom of movement ends, Irish citizens will need to seek permission to enter the UK when they arrive from outside the common travel area. I am sure all members of the Committee agree that that would be wholly unacceptable.

In addition to the evidence from Professor Ryan, I also welcome the written evidence from the Committee on the Administration of Justice, which notes that the clause is

“designed to remedy the gap for Irish citizens being able to enter and reside in the UK from outside the CTA”.

Dr de Mars, Mr Murray, Professor O’Donoghue and Dr Warwick highlight that the clause will help to clarify and simplify travel rights under the common travel area.

The Government are clear that, as now, Irish citizens should not be subject to immigration control unless they are subject to a deportation or exclusion order, or to an international travel ban. Those exceptions are set out in the Bill, and they reflect current and long-standing practice. I confirm that our approach is to deport Irish citizens only if there are exceptional circumstances, or if a court has recommended deportation in a criminal case.

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

This is the crux of the matter—the Minister is confirming an approach that appears to be different from the one set out in the clause. Why not just include the Government’s approach to this issue in the Bill?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that he just lost a division on that matter, but I am sure we will return to it on Report. He may consider his drafting to be better than that of my Home Office officials, but I must take a contrary view. I confirmed the Government’s approach in response to questions raised on Second Reading, and, as members of the Committee will have noted, once we leave the EU, Irish citizens will be exempt from the automatic deportation provisions for criminality in the UK Borders Act 2007.

The clause amends section 9 of the Immigration Act 1971 so that restrictions placed on those who enter the UK from the CTA by order under that section will not apply to Irish citizens. It also amends schedule 4 to that Act, which deals with the integration of UK law and the immigration law of the islands—Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. The schedule provides broadly that leave granted or refused in the islands has the same effect as leave granted or refused in the UK. The clause disapplies those provisions in relation to Irish citizens who do not require such leave under the Bill. They also make it lawful for an Irish citizen—unless they are subject to a deportation or exclusion order—to enter the UK from the islands, regardless of their status in them.

The clause aims to support the wider reciprocal rights enjoyed by British and Irish citizens in the other state. Citizens will continue to work, study, access healthcare and social security benefits, and vote in certain elections when they are in the other state. I reiterate that once free movement ends, Irish citizens in the UK will be able to bring family members to the UK on the same basis as British citizens, because they are considered to be settled from day one of their arrival in the UK.

Photo of Maria Caulfield Maria Caulfield Conservative, Lewes 10:45 am, 26th February 2019

Will the Minister confirm that that is also the case for Irish citizens in Northern Ireland, under the spirit of the Good Friday agreement?

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend is right to emphasise that point, and that is absolutely the case in Northern Ireland. We take the provisions of the Belfast agreement very seriously indeed.

This clause supports the citizenship provisions in the Belfast agreement that enable the people of Northern Ireland to identify and hold citizenship as British, Irish or both. 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 there are no routine immigration controls on those routes. Given the unique and historic nature of our relationship with Ireland, and our long-standing common travel area arrangements, I am sure that Members will agree on the importance of the clause as we bring free movement to an end.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.