Brexit: People crossing Irish border would have to register in advance under plan being studied by Theresa May

Exclusive: Prime Minister praises 'some very good proposals' – but they include 'fast-track movement' clearance or the risk of being 'considered to have entered the state irregularly'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Saturday 10 March 2018 23:51 GMT
People crossing Irish border after Brexit would have to register in advance, according to new plan being studied by Theresa May

People crossing the Irish border would have to register in advance to avoid checks and delays after Brexit under a hugely controversial plan being considered by No 10.

Anyone without “fast-track movement” clearance would have to use approved crossing points or would be “considered to have entered the state irregularly”, the study suggests.

Despite Theresa May’s insistence that the border will continue to have no “physical infrastructure”, both CCTV and cameras to track vehicle number plates would be needed at some crossing points, according to the blueprint.

Nevertheless, the Prime Minister has told MPs she has “asked officials to look at it very carefully”, adding: “I believe it gives some very good proposals for solutions.”

The decision to consider the plan, put forward in Brussels, was strongly criticised by the Irish government, which told The Independent the proposals would break Ms May’s pledge of no “physical infrastructure and associated checks” after Brexit.

Peter Hain, the former Northern Ireland Secretary, went further, warning the proposal to pre-register travellers “would be risking immediate civil unrest”.

“If I was Northern Ireland Secretary and this report came on to my desk, its next stop would be the bin,” Mr Hain said.

Donald Tusk on Brexit negotiations: Ireland first

The package of measures has also attracted support from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Tories’ partners in government, which hailed it “as an excellent foundation to build on”.

“I strongly recommend that all read this – borders, in summary, need to be dragged into the 21st century,” wrote Emma Little-Pengelly, the Belfast South MP, in a newspaper article.

The Prime Minister has asked officials to study the Smart Border 2.0 report – commissioned by a European parliamentary committee – as she scrambles for a solution to the border dilemma.

In December, she agreed to “full alignment” of regulations across the entire UK if necessary to avoid the return of border posts and checks, which could become a magnet for terrorists.

But she has been accused of reneging on that agreement, rejecting the EU’s proposal of a “common regulatory area” across Ireland if other solutions to avoid a hard border fail.

Instead, the Government has vowed to leave the EU customs union, putting its faith in technology to avoid checks – while failing to rule out the return of cameras at the crossing.

The Smart Border 2.0 study does propose a solution based on technology, but The Independent can report it acknowledges the plan would still require:

  • “Both physical and digital infrastructure” – with vehicles “to be monitored using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) at unmanned border crossings”. It states: “CCTV will also be required at border crossings”
  • A Trusted Traveller Programme – under which people would “pre-register for fast-track movement across the border”, possibly using “biometric passports or enhanced drivers’ licenses using radio frequency identification”
  • “Free movement lanes” at the busiest crossings to “allow differentiation between those entitled or not to move under the CTA [Common Travel Area]. Non-qualifying individuals who did not cross at these specific border crossings would then be considered to have entered the state irregularly”
  • Agreement between the EU and the UK on the “transfer of personal data”, to allow each side to carry out inspections for the other. The EU has said this will require binding oversight by the European Court of Justice – which Ms May has ruled out

“The proposal does not remove the need for a border with checks; rather, it is designed to make such a border as frictionless and open as possible,” states the report, carried out for the European Parliament’s policy department for citizens’ rights and constitutional affairs.

A spokesperson for the Irish government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade pointed to the phase one Brexit deal agreed by Ms May last December.

“The UK gave a guarantee that a hard border, including any physical infrastructure and associated checks and controls will be avoided. This report proposes the opposite.”

And Mr Hain, a supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain group, added: “It is absolutely incredible that the Prime Minister has appeared to endorse this report and the proposals it contains.

“These ideas are more than just stupid, they are dangerous and, if we insisted on pre-registration for travellers, we would be risking immediate civil unrest.”

A government spokesman confirmed that Brexit officials were studying the Smart Border 2.0 report, after Ms May’s little-noticed comment in her Commons statement last Monday.

But he added: “This isn’t our report, it was produced by the EU. Our commitment remains that we want no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – and no physical infrastructure at the border.

“The Prime Minister has said that any number of times, and the position hasn’t changed.”

The criticism underlines how the future Irish border is among the most difficult issues in the Brexit negotiations, threatening to wreck the UK’s hopes for a deal.

In Dublin, on Friday, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, warned the EU will stall trade talks until Britain comes up with a workable solution.

The next stage of negotiations would be “Ireland first” and the UK had yet to put forward a proposal to allay fears, he said.

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