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The UK and Ireland will maintain the common travel area allowing citizens to travel freely between the two countries – a key pillar of the Northern Irish peace process – after Brexit, according to the Brexit secretary.
The potential imposition of border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic has become a key concern in Ireland, with many fearing it would inflame sectarian tensions.
The British government has repeatedly said it wants to avoid a “hard” border, but has not presented a consistent picture of how it aims to do so, given that the UK is unlikely to remain in the EU’s customs union.
Speaking to the commons Brexit committee on Wednesday, however, David Davis said:
I am confident that the two nations and the [EU] Commission between them will be able to solve this – because we really want to, because the technology is better than it used to be, because we all understand the value of it.
Mr Davis pointed out that there are already some excise duty differences which apply to cross-border trade in Ireland, which are “dealt with in a subtle and not highly visible way”.
He said the government would aim to replicate these systems on a larger scale to minimise disruption should the UK face new trade barriers with the EU.
Mr Davis said:
It’s not going to be easy, it will cost us money, it will cost a lot of work on technology and so on to maintain the border controls on goods, as it were, but without having a border person. And that’s what we intend to do.
On individual travel across the border, Mr Davis said: “the common travel area will apply; what we will aim to do is pretty much identical to what the 1949 act [does] which gives effectively citizenship rights to the citizens of each country in the other country”.
Mr Davis said keeping the common travel area is “one of the underlying elements of the peace process” and added that he is confident of securing support from his counterparts in the EU on border issues.
The Commission has a strong emotional investment in the Northern Irish peace process and indeed Michel Barnier, my opposite number, has.
…I don’t foresee a problem.