The Government has noted the statement by the UK Minister of State for Immigration Caroline Nokes MP on 5 February and is aware of the concerns raised by the Committee on the Administration of Justice in this regard.
The Government has noted and welcomes that Prime Minister May acknowledged in her speech in Belfast on 5 February that there have been serious concerns raised about how UK immigration rules treat citizens exercising their right under the Good Friday Agreement to be Irish and that, in some cases, people have encountered difficulties in securing their rights as Irish citizens to bring family members to reside. The British Prime Minister expressed understanding of the concerns raised and underlined that "the birth right to identify and be accepted as British, Irish or both" and the right to hold both British and Irish citizenship “is absolutely central to the Agreement”. Prime Minister May said that she has asked the Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to “review the issues around citizenship urgently to deliver a long term solution consistent with the letter and spirit” of the Good Friday Agreement.
These are welcome commitments and acknowledgements by Prime Minister May. Last year, I raised with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland the need for the citizenship and identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement to be fully taken account of in all relevant policy areas, and there has been ongoing engagement between our officials, including through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Secretariat. The Government will continue to engage with the UK Government as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement on this important issue.
In relation to Brexit, the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland that is an integral part of the Agreement on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU, and which has been endorsed by the European Council and agreed with the UK Government, confirms the Union citizenship of Irish citizens in Northern Ireland. As Union citizens, Irish citizens in Northern Ireland will continue to enjoy the right to move and reside freely throughout the EU, benefitting from the important right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of nationality while doing so. The Protocol also confirms that Irish citizens in Northern Ireland, “will continue to enjoy, exercise and have access to rights, opportunities and benefits” that come with EU citizenship.
Further engagement is needed on which EU rights, opportunities or benefits can be exercised by the people of Northern Ireland who are Irish and therefore EU citizens, when they are resident in Northern Ireland, which will be outside the territory of the European Union after the UK departure. The negotiations on the future relationship of the UK with the European Union will be an important factor in this regard. There is an onus on the UK Government to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts in any scenario and it should ensure relevant issues, including possible future UK participation in EU funds and programmes, are part of its detailed position and pursued in the discussions on the EU-UK future relationship.
The Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the UK that was agreed on 25 November last also includes important references with regard to cooperation between the European Union and the UK in relevant areas and it affirms the commitment of the Union and the UK that the Good Friday Agreement “must be protected in all its parts, and that this extends to the practical application of the 1998 Agreement on the island of Ireland and to the totality of the relationships set out in the 1998 Agreement.”
The Government remains firmly of the view that the only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal is to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement as endorsed by the European Council and agreed with the UK Government.
The Government will continue to proactively engage to ensure that people in Northern Ireland continue to enjoy access to EU rights, opportunities, and benefits in to the future. Under any scenario for the UK’s exit from the European Union, the obligations and commitments of the Irish and UK Governments under the Good Friday Agreement remain and the Government will continue to work with the UK Government as co-guarantor to secure the full implementation of the Agreement.