UK shelves Northern Irish passport plan

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The Independent Online

The ditching of travel laws that would have created a UK ring of security excluding Northern Ireland has been hailed by Finance Minister Sammy Wilson as a victory for common sense.

Home Office minister Phil Woolas last night told the Commons he would no longer be pursuing plans that would require people to show passports on journeys within the historic Common Travel Area, which includes the UK, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

These were among the last controversial issues in the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill, which was clearing its final stages in the Commons last night.

The government has warned of “trafffickers of all kinds” exploiting the open border, insisting that something had to be done to block the breach in defences. The provision would have required people travelling from Northern Ireland to anywhere else in the UK to be “treated as if they were coming from a foreign country”, Mr Wilson said, welcoming the dropping of the plans.

Before buses could travel through the ports of Larne or Belfast, advance notification would have had to be given of all passengers and if these did not match the passengers on the day, some people could have been turned back, he said.

“This Bill would have radically changed the United Kingdom's borders. In effect it would have placed a very tight border around Great Britain but would have left Northern Ireland exposed and isolated to those involved in international terrorism,” Mr Wilson said.

“From day one I told the Government that it was unwise, would be ineffective for the United Kingdom as a whole and treated Northern Ireland people as second-class citizens.”

Mr Wilson said he had recently invited the Home Office Minister to Northern Ireland to see first-hand the implications of the Bill for ports, freight industry and passengers.

“Due to the Bill requiring everyone travelling into Great Britain to be subject to the same scrutiny as an international traveller, our ports would have had to undergo significant infrastructure upgrades,” he said. “Meanwhile it would have stopped last-minute travel by anyone from Northern Ireland as travel arrangements would have had to be made well in advance. Such conditions would have had massive implications for our business community.”

“The cross-party defeat of this Bill is a victory for commonsense. Northern Ireland is as much part of the United Kingdom as England, Scotland or Wales — therefore our citizens should have the same level of security as anywhere else in the United Kingdom.

“If the Government wants to strengthen its borders it should not do so at the cost of Northern Ireland, but should work with all the countries in the British Isles so as a common approach can be taken to deal with international terrorism.”

He suggested that security could be tightened by offering the Republic the opportunity to use the scheme of checks.