Brexit and Irish citizens in the UK: how to safeguard the rights of Irish citizens in an uncertain future

The rights of Irish citizens are at risk because of Brexit according to our latest report, authored by migration barrister Simon Cox. The paper found that the rights Irish citizens currently enjoy in the UK only have a legal grounding in their status as EU citizens and not as Irish citizens. These rights include:

  • Exemption from deportation;
  • The right to rent private accommodation; and
  • The right to work in the UK.

This means that after Brexit, Irish citizens may no longer enjoy these rights unless legislative action is taken to enshrine the rights of Irish citizens in to British law. The paper examines what would happen to the rights of Irish citizens under UK law, if the UK were to end the special status of EU citizens before putting in to place legal provisions to protect the rights of the 381,000 people of Irish birth currently living in the UK. This includes many Irish Travellers who hold Irish citizenship. The legal analysis found:

  • The immigration status of Irish citizens arriving from outside the Common Travel Area would be unclear. There would be no explicit legal right for these people to enter, to stay, to work, and to rent private accommodation, nor any explicit legal bar on removal or deportation.
  • The lack of clarity on the status of Irish citizens could make the British citizenship of their children unclear.
  • There would be no explicit bar on exclusion of Irish citizens from Northern Ireland, regardless of their ties to Northern Ireland.
  • Irish citizens would be excluded from cash benefits.
  • Irish citizens would be excluded from non-cash social welfare, unless this would violate their human rights.
  • Irish citizens may be excluded from free NHS treatment.

The paper recommends that the simplest, and therefore most effective, means of guaranteeing the rights of Irish citizens after Brexit would be a general law providing that Irish citizens should be treated equally with British citizens. 

The paper and project was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.