Maintaining the Common Travel Area with Ireland is key to Dublin’s support in the Brexit talks

Maintaining the Common Travel Area with Ireland is key to Dublin’s support in the Brexit talks

Whilst the United Kingdom experienced a polarising array of emotions on 24th June 2016, the morning after our referendum, a cohesive sense of trepidation engulfed the Irish Government. Being the only country to share a land border with the UK, and being so economically, culturally and politically integrated, it became clear that the UK’s and Ireland’s destinies were irrevocably entwined.

The asymmetrical and perhaps disproportionate level of exposure to the consequences of Brexit for Ireland – in comparison with the other 26 member states of the EU – should be noted by Britain. It presents an exclusive opportunity to gain an indispensable ally from within the EU bloc, which will undoubtedly play to our advantage during our eventual negotiations.

However, in order to ensure this support, we must play our part to satisfy the Irish objectives. Principally, this means guaranteeing the status quo of the Common Travel Area (CTA) and the Good Friday Agreement.

As a member of the Brexit Select Committee, I recently travelled to Dublin to meet with various officials, including their Ambassador and members of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It became immediately clear that the primary objective of the Irish Government was to guarantee the continuation of the CTA agreement, as there is undoubtedly some uncertainty regarding its future, even though our Government has envisaged a “seamless and frictionless” border.

The CTA predates the UK’s and Ireland’s entries into the European Communities in 1973 and governs the free movement of persons. It is far more than a symbiotic gesture of our amicable relations with the Irish, it is a critical avenue for trade: allowing the free movement of persons, goods and services; and consequently permitting Irish exports to avoid excessive tariffs and red tape.

However, this relationship relies upon both states being members of the EU Single Market and the Customs Union. Hypothetically, our exit from these respective arrangements would signal increased tariffs on cross-border trade; customs declarations; VAT impositions and inspections on goods entering the border. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has estimated that these costs and delays could increase transaction costs of trade by up to 24% of the value of traded goods.

Considering the value of Irish goods and services exported to the UK amounted to 17% of GDP in 2014 and that the trading relationship is valued at around 60bn per year, this outcome would be severely detrimental for both nations.

The optimum solution to rectify this would be through continued access to the Single Market, but since it is evident that the UK intends to sever its ties with this arrangement, a novel solution must be reached.

This is one of a plethora of unique and complex challenges facing the UK and the EU in the Brexit negotiations. But, since it is not just an economic issue, it is perhaps the most contentious.

It cannot be overstated how important the CTA is towards the preservation of the Good Friday Agreement, as its composition is wholly based upon both parties being member states of the EU. Although the sensationalist suggestions that our exit will nullify the Government’s commitments to the Agreement should be ignored, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has warned of the “destabilising effect” that a hard border would have upon the Agreement.

As well as antagonising the various economic interests of both nations, it would catalyse nationalist agendas which, given their recent surge in popularity, is a fire that should not be stoked. This is especially concerning given the current lack of a devolved Executive in Northern Ireland, which reveals a complete lack of any political stability that could placate these concerns.

Of course, by no means does our exit from the EU signal all doom and gloom for both nations. It is clearly in our interests to rid ourselves of the overly bureaucratic and economically stifling Single Market and Customs Union. Similarly, Brexit allows Ireland to reduce its excessive reliance on its bilateral economic relationship with the UK, and subsequently can innovate its economy to accommodate future investment from international conglomerates that would want an EU headquarters in an English-speaking country.

I am simply taking this opportunity to highlight the conclusive evidence necessitating that the status quo of the CTA be maintained. Whilst the preservation of the CTA will of course benefit the UK, it should be prioritised in order to appease Irish concerns. Aside from the nostalgic endearment attached to Ireland because of our close heritage and cultural links, we enjoy close economic ties that are far more important for Ireland (our exports to Ireland in 2015 equated to approximately 0.6% of GDP) than for us.

Therefore, our entwined destinies signify that Ireland will be rooting for the UK to get a good deal from the EU, and thus we must recognise the strategic importance of Ireland’s support. Unequivocal support from an EU member state during our Brexit negotiations should be highly valued and prioritised as a key objective in our negotiating strategy.

I am not suggesting the use of the CTA as a bargaining chip in our negotiations, nor am I condoning a paternalistic, pseudo-bilateral relationship. Instead, I am insisting that we should immediately find rational solutions to ensure the preservation of the CTA so that we can secure the necessary Irish support that we need in our Brexit negotiations.