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Vote Leave heavyweights slug it out over Ireland

by Jack Schickler | 15.04.2016

On Wednesday, the Electoral Commission designated Vote Leave as lead Out campaigner in the Brexit referendum, fending off a challenge from the rival Grassroots Out. One might have hoped that might lead to greater clarity over what leaving the EU means. But sadly not. Even within Vote Leave, there’s still more than one point of view on offer over what Brexit looks like.

The situation of Ireland, and the border-free travel it has enjoyed with the UK for nearly 100 years, is a case in point.

Theresa Villiers, eurosceptic Northern Ireland Secretary, yesterday repeated claims that Brexit would make no difference to the frontier between the the UK and Ireland. “There is no reason why the UK’s only land border should be any less open after Brexit than it is today,” she said in a speech in London.

Villiers’ claims are not new, and they have also been made by Boris Johnson. As InFacts has argued before, Brexit would leave the Irish border in an unprecedented situation, and potentially open a significant loophole that travellers from the EU could exploit to enter the UK.

But her assurances are at odds with the views expressed by former Chancellor Nigel Lawson just a few days before. Lawson, who was previously chair of Vote Leave and now sits on its campaign committee, was asked by the BBC’s Andrew Marr what leaving the EU would mean for relations with Ireland, in particular on the 310-mile border. Lawson said Ireland’s special status with the UK would remain, but “there would have to be border controls”.  

Lawson’s claims, though very clear, were swiftly quashed by his own camp. The FT reports Villiers as having reiterated yesterday that not reintroducing border checks was “the clear position of the Leave campaign,” and that Lawson had “made a mistake” in his remarks.

But the situation should be clarified. Despite the fact that campaigners – including Villiers yesterday – cite taking back control of our borders as a central argument for Brexit, they cannot agree what it would mean for our only land border. Many in the electorate – not least the millions in Northern Ireland, or the hundreds of thousands of Irish nationals living in the mainland UK – might want to know such basic facts before casting their referendum vote.

Neither Vote Leave nor Theresa Villiers responded to InFacts’ request for comment.

Edited by Geert Linnebank

2 Responses to “Vote Leave heavyweights slug it out over Ireland”

  • That Britain and Ireland are both equal members of the EU is an important plank of the Good Friday agreement. A Brexit Vote would open up questions as to the legal foundations of that agreement and the commitment of the UK government to the principles, particularly relating to human rights standards, of an ‘independent’ UK. It should be very clear to everyone that any attempt, unilaterally, by the UK to harden the border with the Republic would be an inflammatory step that could be very dangerous for those expected to implement stronger border controls.

  • Might the border question not be out of the UK’s hands? As Ireland’s land border is with a non-EU member might it be required to control the border? After all it could be a route through which people and goods might flow into the EU from the UK.

    This is something no UK politician can give any guarantee on, it would be entirely in the hands of Ireland and the EU.