On Wednesday, 8 May 2019, a breakthrough in Brexit negotiations was achieved when both the Irish and UK Governments entered a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) reaffirming their mutual commitment to the Common Travel Area (“CTA”) and the continued protection of the rights and privileges it affords to Irish and British citizens. You can read our previous publication on the origins of the CTA and the rights and privileges it affords each country’s citizens in the other’s jurisdiction.

The CTA predates both countries’ membership of the European Union and while the arrangement dates back to 1922, it is not specifically established in any bilateral treaty between the two countries. Among the rights and privileges protected under the CTA and copper fastened by the MOU are:

  • Right to move freely and reside: Citizens of either country will remain entitled to move freely between and reside in either jurisdiction.
  • Rights to work: Irish citizens in the UK and British citizens in Ireland will continue to enjoy a right to work without the need to obtain permission, including on a self-employed basis.
  • Mutual recognition of qualifications: Both the UK and Irish Governments have committed to introduce legislative measures to provide for the mutual recognition of qualifications, including professional qualifications.
  • Access to Education: Citizens of either country will continue to have access to education at all levels in the other’s jurisdiction on the same conditions as citizens of that state.
  • Access to healthcare, social protection and social housing: Citizens of either country in the other’s jurisdiction will continue to have equal access to routine, emergency and planned public healthcare, to social security, and to social housing, including homeless assistance as is afforded to citizens of that state.
  • Voting: Irish citizens in the UK and British citizens in Ireland will continue to be eligible to vote in local and national elections.

The MOU is not a legally binding treaty, but it does represent a welcome development in ensuring that existing arrangements are maintained for British and Irish citizens. It is envisaged that further legislative steps, and a more detailed, bilateral agreement, may follow to give full effect to the CTA arrangements. The MOU and CTA do not have any effect on goods or customs issues, such as duties and tariffs, which remain subject to ongoing negotiation. It could, however, signal stronger cooperation between Ireland and the UK in further Brexit negotiations.

Click here to see the text of the MOU and here for the joint statement issued by both Governments.