Brexit, the Common Travel Area and the Labour Market
by Paul Rochford, Employer Relations, Ibec

The United Kingdom and Ireland have shared special arrangements in relation to travel since the Irish Free State was established in 1922. Although usually referred to as a single entity, the Common Travel Area (CTA) is in fact a collection of legislative measures dealing with immigration, residence and citizenship. It is a product of the unique cultural, social, economic and political history of both countries. These measures must be reaffirmed by both the Irish and UK Governments post-Brexit.


On a wider scale, neither Ireland nor the UK are members of the Schengen travel area and both countries currently operate border checks on people travelling from other EU Member States. Both countries also operate reciprocal arrangements in relation to restrictions on travel and entry to persons who do not have an appropriate visa or other permission to enter the other’s territory. There is no clear reason why such arrangements could not continue to apply post-Brexit.


The CTA arrangement is recognised in Protocol 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which provides that Ireland and the United Kingdom may make arrangements between themselves as to travel arrangements within the CTA. The 26 other Member States must also reaffirm that recognition in any redrawing of the EU Treaties post Brexit.

A number of Irish and UK companies have offices or subsidiaries in the other jurisdiction. The annual turnover of Irish owned foreign affiliates in the UK in 2014 was €37.6 billion, some 37.9% of the total turnover of all Irish owned foreign affiliates. Direct investment in Ireland from the UK in 2014 totalled €36.9 billion. Irish companies in Britain employ 86,000 people, while UK companies in Ireland employ 73,000. Therefore, any change to the ability of companies, particularly multinationals, to freely move employees between both jurisdictions – even on a day to day basis to attend meetings – may have a significant impact.

Of further concern is the possibility that the United Kingdom may engage in a realignment of employment regulations following its separation from the European Union. Such changes are contemplated by the UK Government’s White Paper on Brexit and may make that jurisdiction a more attractive one for multinational companies to invest in and grow their businesses if they are precluded from travelling freely between both.

In light of these potential risks, it is vital that Ireland maintains its competitiveness and resists the urge to over-regulate the workplace – a trend currently on display in the multitude of Private Members Bills on employment related issues being put before the Oireachtas. The Irish Government must continue to advocate Ireland’s unique position in a post-Brexit Europe, in particular in relation to the travel and residency benefits that Irish and UK citizens currently enjoy because of both nations’ shared history. To ignore that special arrangement’s importance to the UK and Ireland will succeed only in damaging the economic prospects of both nations.

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