Whilst the issue of the border has become centre stage in the Brexit discussions, the focus has been almost exclusively on the freedom of movement of goods. The implications for the freedom of movement of people have by contrast been quite marginal, despite the prominence of ‘migration control’ in the debate. Progress in this area is very limited at EU-UK level. There has been no tangible bilateral UK-Ireland progress to legally formalise the Common Travel Area (CTA), which is of concern to Irish Travellers, usually Irish and UK passport holders, who traditionally travel between the UK and Ireland in the course of their work.
Tome Anosha are concerned by the lack of transparency in relation to post-Brexit operational planning for both CTA and internal immigration controls in the north of Ireland, with immigration policy officials not permitted to engage with the research, and little clarity provided even to Westminster committees. The direction of travel for post-Brexit arrangements carries serious risks of facilitating widespread racial and ethnic discrimination and undermining any confidence in and the framework for policing introduced by the peace process.
While the official UK Brexit position is limited to ruling out ‘routine’ passport controls within the CTA, we fear this may not be the reality in practice; there is little clarity as to what non routine controls may look like. The concern is that there will be a resultant increase in racial profiling, selective checks that target persons on the basis of skin colour or other ethnic indicators. Despite Ministerial assurances we have received testimony of this already happening, many of us having been on train journeys down to Dublin, only for the train to be stopped at Dundalk and the guards board the train and request details and ID from anyone they deem to be ‘non Irish’ based entirely on appearance. Certainly for members of Tome Anosha, this concerns us not only as members of an ethnic minority ourselves who already experience prejudice in our everyday lives, but as citizens who oppose all forms of racial and ethnic discrimination.
The increased role of the UK Border Force and Home Office Immigration Enforcement Directorate has provided a new focus on the extent such bodies sit outside the NI-specific framework for policing accountability. There are significant differences in ethos, the culture of human rights compliance and legal certainty in powers, with real risks expanded post-Brexit operations will lead to a return of the use of arbitrary and discriminatory powers and damage any confidence in policing.
A relatively small amount of Northern Ireland’s total trade is with the Republic and is largely agricultural. The UK is the second biggest customer for Irish exports and as such, we need frictionless trade between the two countries.
Ireland was the UK’s fifth-largest export market and the ninth-largest source of imports. The UK has recorded a trade surplus with Ireland every year between 1999 and 2017. There is absolutely no need for a hard border, as demonstrated by customs experts and so we would have to question both the motives and authority of the EU in imposing one when it is something that neither the Irish nor the British government wants.
In the event of a hard border/ no deal Brexit, Travellers living or stopping and working in the border counties could also experience problems accessing services such as health and welfare. Many Travellers may live in Dundalk but work in Newry or vice versa; they may be registered with a GP or have their children in a school in Newry but live on a camp on or over the border.
Many Travellers have been forced to travel to mainland Europe to seek work, primarily in Scandinavian countries. There is a major concern about how UK passport holders may be affected post Brexit, in terms of work permits and access to European Health Cards. As a deal has not yet been reached, many Travellers working abroad are unsure of what the future will bring- will they become de facto illegal/ undocumented workers and if so, how will this affect them personally? Will EU regulations around the disposal of scrap metals, car batteries etc that had a major negative impact on Traveller financial autonomy be reversed post Brexit? This is something that we need to examine further.
Another major concern for Traveller community workers and activists post-Brexit has been one of continued EU funding for community development projects however, there is to be ‘legacy funding’ as part of the agreement and so we are to assume that there will be no significant changes in that regard.
The Question of Human Rights Law.
There is certainly potential for significant impacts on human rights and equality in NI post Brexit and there may be withdrawal of certain EU human rights protections. For example, the loss of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights will result in the removal of a broad range of protections that are currently not contained elsewhere in UK domestic legislation- this is concerning in light of the failure to deliver human rights and equality in NI for much of the period since the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement (B/GFA). The challenges posed by Brexit concern not just the withdrawal of substantive rights themselves but also the availability of enforcement mechanisms. The EU framework provides for a wider range of enforcement mechanisms, such as the Francovich remedy, that will no longer be available. However, Brexit would provide a basis for re-opening conversations around the Bill of Rights and a Single Equality Act for Northern Ireland, as well as a Charter of Rights for the island of Ireland. Issues of UK Constitutional law are complex and as such have been used aggressively in debates around Brexit as a means to confuse in order to support particular political agendas. We at Tome Anosha feel it is important to emphasise to other Travellers that The 1998 Human Rights Act would not be scrapped, nor would the ability for recourse to the European Court of Human Rights. The European Convention of Human Rights protects the human rights of people in countries that belong to the Council of Europe, which is a completely different organisation to the EU. The UK will still be signed up to the ECHR when it leaves the EU. In Britain/UK, human rights under the ECHR are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998. Leaving the EU does not affect our rights under the ECHR, as this comes from the Council of Europe, not the EU. The protections under the Equality Acts 2006 and 2010 are to be retained after we leave the EU.
Current European Court (CJEU) case law will be preserved, but the Great Repeal Bill will not provide any role for the CJEU in the interpretation of new laws and will not require our courts to consider future CJEU’s case law. In the talks around politics and democracy, we need to be aware that we did not have a referendum on any of the key steps and treaties that made us subservient to the unelected power of the EU.
For many Irish people, including Travellers, the prospect of Brexit speeding up the reunification of Ireland led them to vote Leave. Rightly or wrongly, this is a view held by many and as such, should be mentioned particularly as Irish nationalism is, by and large, a direct result of British imperialism. The EU is also an imperial power, whose purpose is to remove national self-determination whilst promoting the idea that ‘we’re all in this together’. As we have seen, this is not the case when industrial powerhouses like Germany asset-strip smaller powers like Greece, and the EU then leaves the country to flounder. Financiers control former nations, redefined as ‘economic zones’, through debt and the control of their public assets and banks. They are now looking at trade controls in Ireland to do the same.
Through policies of forced migrations, at one and the same time the EU makes travelling nomads of millions of workers, particularly in the accession states where vast skills gaps now exist, yet it locks the door to those fleeing the wars and destitution it supports overseas. Externally the EU seeks to act as a bloc on the world stage and strangle agricultural production in developing countries and control gas and oil pipelines to the east.
Until the British government and the EU come to an agreement, anything we say here is mere speculation. Tome Anosha are aware of potential negative outcomes and hope to be able to help our community navigate them if and when they arise. We are also acutely aware of the negative impacts on traditional crafts and trades as a result of globalisation and mass production, something that has been extremely detrimental to Traveller economy. We realise that we’ll be affected as much as, if not more than, other Irish and British citizens in the North of Ireland although we cannot fail to acknowledge the democratic deficit in the current EU system.
It was formed to promote capitalism at the expense of developing countries and not for the promotion of human rights and stability for all citizens, had it been then we would not be experiencing the rise of the far right, targeting Gypsy Travellers and Roma people in all EU countries. As the euro currency continues its decline, as the industrial powerhouse Germany faces increasing worker discontent and the rise of the far right, and as more and more EU member states, and more importantly their citizens, think leaving the EU is now a real option, so the tactics deployed against Britain’s Brexit negotiators become more desperate. It could be said that this is why they have rejected compromises made in the negotiations by the British government. Whatever the outcome, we at Tome Anosha will be prepared to assist and advise our community on navigating a new political landscape and it’s challenges.