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Irish citizens: entitlement to enter or remain without leave

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 26th February 2019.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration 10:30 am, 26th February 2019

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.