Are we creeping towards a harder border?

The Nationality and Borders Act achieved Royal Assent in April 2022. A period of consultation is under way on the implications for immigration tribunals etc. The mainstream GB media focus has been on issues like detention in Rwanda whilst asylum applications are considered, but of interest here is the controversial requirement for non British and Irish citizens to need to apply for an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) to enter Northern Ireland from the Republic. In this OP I explore why I think that has ramifications for us all.
  The details of the scheme were outlined by Home Office Minister Robert Jenrick in a written reply to Alliance MP Stephen Farry last week. To his credit, and also that of Claire Hanna MP, both attacked the proposals as unworkable and damaging to the NI economy.
 It works like this. By end of 2024, any non UK or RoI citizen has to apply online for a visa waver to enter the UK. The application includes uploading of a facial image and in due course fingerprints –  (that latter requirement is suspended until technology to do this from home is available!).
   You will then be granted a visa waiver probably for a year. This will need to be carried in your passport – even if you are just going  shopping in Asda, Strabane.
   For years, pre Brexit, we grew complacent about the Common Travel Area. Many believe that there isn’t a “border” as such since 30,000 cross it daily for work, school and hospital appointments.  But unhindered  access belied the fact that for some the border is real and crossing it has always been “an offence”. Take anyone traveling on a work or travel visa. You need to apply, pay for and carry separate visas for the UK and Ireland. The CTA does not apply to anyone who isn’t British or Irish. Or asylum seekers like those the Irish government housed last year in Inishowen but who were required to visit Dublin regularly for interviews. Risking arrest or deportation if they entered the UK, they had to travel by bus to Sligo down the N15 – the only road linking Co Donegal to the rest of the Republic that doesn’t go through the North -and then catch a train to Dublin – adding 3 hours to their journey.
These difficulties will now apply to thousands of others. In my view, they will provide an excuse for the authorities to introduce intrusive administration of the border. Initially there will be a soft touch and it will happen remotely from the border itself to avoid conflicting with the provisions of the GFA, but this will harden as offences are discovered. The Enterprise train will have regular checks. Racial profiling will occur – already SDLP Cllr Lilian Seenoi-Barr, – the only ethnic minority Councillor in the North, says she has been a victim and has to carry her passport with her on any long journey.
   This is all about Brexit and as Stephen Farry MP put it – “the Tories anti immigration agenda”. The North’s economy, and the lost tourism this will cause is just collateral damage. Of the 2.25m tourist visits to the North each year, it’s estimated 500,000 come from or via the Republic. Independent travelers will have to apply for an ETA and tour operators will have to check their passengers for compliance or potentially risk a fine. Many will think it’s not worth the bother.
    The “invisible” border just got real.

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