Is New EU “Travel Authorisation” Another Brexit-Induced Ireland Headache?

This week, there’s a lot of noise on the Brexit front, and I feel a big remiss in not writing it up. But I am not sure how consequential much of it will prove to be.

For instance, the House of Lords has delivered Theresa May a series of embarrassing defeats, ranging on demanding that she report to them down the road on the efforts she had made to keep the UK in the customs union (when May is committed to leaving) to voting to limit the so-called Henry VIII powers, which is the authority the Government sought to do mass rewrites of existing legislation, allegedly merely minor edits so it will all work post Brexit. But the problem is in most cases it is nowhere near this tidy, and the legislature sensibly doesn’t want to give the executive a blank check to rejigger huge swathes of law. But this flip side is that the having both Houses review the huge volume of laws that need to be revised is a mammoth task that no one seems the foggiest idea how to get done.

The reason I have not taken these votes as seriously as perhaps I should is they seem more important as a barometer of rising public doubt about Brexit and the diminishing of the sense of inevitability of May pushing through her idea of Brexit, despite the EU having already said no to lots of parts, like being super nice to British banks or indulging Ireland techno border fantasies, and other bits not even being doable, like having any new trade deals in place by the end of 2020.1 I don’t pretend to understand UK legislative procedure, but the commentary I’ve seen suggested that the risk to May was that the House of Commons might affirm some of these votes, meaning that by themselves, they aren’t dispositive.

Nevertheless, this rebellion of sorts has led to lots of pontificating by officials and pundits on the issue of whether the UK should stay in the customs union. Poor Richard North has been tearing his hair on his website, since the focus on this question demonstrates how badly informed the UK officialdom is. What all the soft Brexit advocates want is to have a frictionless border, as in no customs checks. A customs union does not achieve that. It simply means “no tariffs”. The EU and Turkey have a customs union, but there is a hard border between Turkey and the EU.

North has been posting almost obsessively on this topic for the last week, since the press and MPs have been getting this issue wrong in just about as many was as one possibly could. Here is the core of his argument:

…the assembled cretins will consider a motion which notes the importance of frictionless trade with the EU for British manufactures and “further notes that the free circulation of goods on the island of Ireland is a consequence of the UK and Republic of Ireland’s membership of the EU customs union”.

Not one of them, it seems, is capable of reading the consolidated treaties, but if any of them had the wit to do so, Article 28 would tell them that:

The Union shall comprise a customs union which shall cover all trade in goods and which shall involve the prohibition between Member States of customs duties on imports and exports and of all charges having equivalent effect, and the adoption of a common customs tariff in their relations with third countries.On the other hand, Article 26(2) gives them the definition of the “internal market” (aka Single Market), which “shall comprise an area without internal frontiers in which the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured in accordance with the provisions of the Treaties”.

From this, it could not be clearer that the free movement of goods which depends on the absence of “internal frontiers” stems from the internal market, and not the customs union.

And we have more examples of UK delusion, like The Sun report, Theresa May to issue 50-page dossier of Brexit trade demands to outmanoeuvre Brussels.

There’s no “outmaneuver” to be had.

First, EU leaders and chief negotiator Michel Barnier have voiced their frustration for the better part of a year that the UK has yet to say what sort of “future relationship,” as in trade deal, it wants. So now that it is turning to this long overdue task, the UK wants its great unwashed public to think this is a wonderfully effective gambit?

Second, from the very morning after the Brexit vote, the EU has stated what its red lines are, like “Any deal has to fit within the parameters of the arrangements we have with other countries” and its corollary, “No cherry picking”. The UK needs to make choices, not convince itself it can somehow get around the parameters the EU has set.

Third, 50 pages is bupkis for a topic as complicated as this. The UK’s position papers have been long on hot air and thin on substance. Maybe this one will be better now that time is running short, but I would not hold my breath.

With that long-winded aside, we’ll turn to the matter of the day, which is a conundrum posed via e-mail. Is a proposed travel authorisation merely a minor post-Brexit nuisance, or is it also another layer of the Ireland border problem?

Reader AFXH sent a link to this tweet:

Courtesy Richard Smith, the Independent explains what’s up in Brexit: Britons set to be charged €7 fee to visit EU countries under new Brussels plans:2

British travellers are likely to be hit by the scheme after Brexit, which is set to apply to all visa-exempt countries outside the EU, except those in the EEA/EFTA, which maintain free movement with the union.

Under the new European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) people coming into the Schengen area would need to fill out an online form ahead of their trip and apply for travel authorisation, as well as pay the fee.

Now this is merely a tiny bit of hassle and cost…until you recall that Ireland is not part of the Schengen area. PlutoniumKun writes:

On purely face value, this seems to say that post Brexit UK citizens would need a ‘travel authorisation’ (how is this different from a visa?) to enter a Schengen country. Thats an obvious big deal for a lot of people.

It creates another problem for Ireland. The primary reason Ireland never joined Schengen is that it was seen as essential to maintain the open border with NI. While officially both Ireland and the UK ‘opted out’ separately, in reality this meant that Ireland took the UK’s lead in policy for incoming travellers to prevent NI becoming a ‘back door’ for illegal immigrants, etc. Although London would not admit it, the real immigration control to the UK occurs not at its borders, but on the sea borders, as nobody really bothers much about (for example) foreign students in the Republic crossing over to visit Belfast without bothering to get a visa. There are checks on buses and trains (not at the border, but at stations and on the trains), but its quite informal.

So, if this is as it seems, its a major problem for Brexit, this time made in the EU. It would mean Ireland could never join Schengen without having passport control on the NI border, as otherwise there would be an obvious ‘back door’ into the Schengen. Or there would have to be a fudge that the ‘real’ border would be at Irish ferry ports and Airports.

In other words, this seems to be another nail in the Tory/DUP fantasy that they can come up with anything other than the EU’s backstop of a sea border as the solution for the Ireland conundrum. And when they wake up to the implications of this “authorisation” requirement, they may try to depict is as a perfidious ploy to punish the UK. In fact, it may well be EU timing is in fact intended to reinforce the point that the UK hasn’t and is pretty much guaranteed not to find an alternative to the sea border solution. But the juveniles who seem to be in charge in the UK don’t like the EU having to play parent, when in reality the EU never dreamed it would be cast in that role.


1 In fairness, the UK could probably get one with the US by then if it were working on it in a serious way now…only because the US imposes rather than negotiates deals. It dictates terms and lets its counterparty get a few token concessions to save face.

2 It has been a while since I went to Europe, sadly, and perhaps I am hallucinating, but I remember paying a ~$10 fee at some point…which I recall was an exit fee, and I had to manage my currency to make sure I had the cash on hand to pay it. If that’s correct, this “fee” should come as no surprise whatsoever. It goes with being a third country. If my memory is accurate, the change isn’t in having a fee, it’s in when it is charged, as well as requiring travelers to provide more information than in the past.

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  1. M Quinlan

    Apparently officials on both sides have determined that there are 208 border crossings 11 of which run down the center of roads. If the UK crashes out building a wall is going to be a nightmare.

    1. Oregoncharles

      If the UK crashes out, the Republic will be among the chief victims – and the border will be a smuggler’s highway, as it was before, as several Irish commenters have described, with local color.

      I don’t quite see that being reflected in the negotiations, unless it explains odd EU hesitations. But then, I agree with gardener1, below: Brexit isn’t going to happen.

      1. begob

        Complex contingencies. Outcome uncertain. But the Art.50 notice period does run out 29/03/2019.

        1. Oregoncharles

          Many things can change in almost a year – but it’s already quite clear, just on the information here, that they will not be ready. Barnier, I think it was, has stated publicly that the EU would take them back – with some relief. I think that as push comes to shove, that will be the only practical solution. Of course, that doesn’t mean it will happen, but I suspect the City will have the last word.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    Curiously, I can’t find any mention of this in the Irish media – they are normally pretty quick to pick up on EU issues. Maybe they are holding on to it as a story until they can work out the deeper implications.

    It may be that this will be used as a bargaining chip and there is no real intention to make the UK a ‘third country’ with specific regards to travel. But it will certainly be unpopular in the UK and will have particular implications for budget airlines.

    Thinking it through, I think the impact for the Irish Republic (not in Schengen) is relatively minor, as most non-EU citizens residing in Ireland need a visa anyway to go to continental Europe. It will mean UK passport holders in Ireland would need this now if they fly out from Dublin to Europe, for example. Since Ireland is not in Schengen it would not be a requirement to cross the NI border – the implications would be for northerners taking a flight or ferry from the Republic.

  3. gardener1

    Brexit? Where?

    There isn’t going to be any Brexit. It seems pretty clear the British government will drag its heels for the next 100 years in any way it can to prevent the voter approved divorce from the EU.

    Perhaps future historians will call it The Hundred Years Footdragging.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Please read our Policies in the tab above, which is mainly about our policies on comments. This is not a chat board and we do not permit comments that are factually incorrect or obviously lazy and uninformed. Our overarching rule is

      You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.

      We also say agntology and Making Shit Up is not on.

      Terabytes have been written about how Article 50 works. The UK is out of the EU as of the end of March 2019. The UK could conceivably grovel to the EU and officially ask to back out of Article 50 even up to the very last minute, and the EU would probably agree, but that’s the only way out. And we’ve also described how the politics in the UK make that impossible (among many other things, a new referendum is perceived to be necessary, and there is now too little time for that).

      I should not have to waste my time debunking comments like yours. And your comment is also an insult to the many readers who provide informed and insightful comments on Brexit.

  4. Oregoncharles

    The EU is simply revoking the whole “visa-exempt” concept, without admitting it, as it probably involves treaty commitments. The EU looks more and more like a protectionist scheme disguised with globalist rhetoric.

    I suspect it’s an example of the left hand knowing not, and the impact on the Irish border is incidental. In fact, I wonder if it would apply to Irish citizens, since they aren’t in Schengen.

    I also tend to agree with gardener1, but that’s strictly a 40,000 foot perspective.

    1. digi_owl

      Dude, EU has always been a protectionist scheme!

      AFAIK, it is basically the same scheme that Bismark used to convince the southern Germanic states to join Prussia and form Germany.

      The globalism and European peace claptrap is just to give the champagne left a way to cover their behinds with a fig leaf argument when the workers gets uppity (the kind of language shenanigans that Americans will recognize as “think of the children”).

  5. AbateMagicThinking But Not Money

    Ah, Schengen:

    I you need any evidence that the EU was already breaking up prior to Brexit, there it is: How can members of a so-called political union even consider such a thing?

    And yet…. My thoughts go to that song about the US in the 1930’s: ‘Doh Re Me’ (Thank you Ry Cooder for your version).

    Are the laws that allowed California to exclude still on the books?

    Pip Pip!

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