Common Travel Area (CTA) Employers, workers, citizens beware!

16 May 2019
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                      Common Travel Area (CTA)         Employers, workers, citizens beware!



The CTA is a special arrangement which allows free movement of people between the UK and Ireland which is extremely important in the daily lives of citizens, particularly in the border region:

  • 30,000 people commute to work across the border
  • 841 flights per week between Dublin and London the busiest route in Europe

The CTA is not just about travel, it provides reciprocal rights for the citizens of the UK and Ireland:

  • unrestricted access to employment and social welfare;
  • access to healthcare and education;
  • the right to vote in local, national elections.


The special arrangement dates back to 1922 to an agreement between the British Government and the new Irish Free State.

The status of Irish citizens in the UK was formalised by the ‘Ireland Act 1949’ which states that “Ireland is not a foreign country for the purpose of any law in force in any part of the United Kingdom”.

The Irish government responded with ‘Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies (Irish Citizenship Rights) Order 1949’ which provided that UK citizens enjoy the same rights in Ireland as Irish citizens in the UK.

The CTA is compatible with membership of the EU, as the EU provides a range of similar rights for citizens – freedom of movement, the right to work; entitlement to social welfare; access to healthcare.

If the UK decides to leave the single market then the EU external border is between Northern Ireland and Ireland. This will mean some form of regulation and control of movement of goods, services and people across the border. The implementation of customs and immigration controls are a necessity for the separation of the UK and EU – the two economic blocks meet back to back at the land border on the island of Ireland.


The ‘Retention of the CTA’ is # 4 on the British Prime Ministers 12 priorities for the Brexit negotiations. But # 5 is ‘control of immigration’, which is clearly the # 1 priority for the Brexiteers. The dilemma to be resolved during the negotiations is reconciling the UK # 1 priority with having a “frictionless and seamless” land border with the EU?

Some form of controls and restrictions on the border will be necessary to enforce EU and UK customs and immigration law:

What checks will be introduced on people crossing the border?

What customs controls / monitoring will be introduced?

Will Workers need employment permits?

What security measures will be introduced at the border?


The CTA is about reciprocity of rights for UK and Irish citizens – the continued ability to travel, live, work, claim social welfare, access to healthcare and education. The claims by Teresa May and Enda Kenny that the CTA can be retained must be viewed with a large dose of scepticism – it is hard to see how you reconcile retention of CTA with exiting the single market and immigration control.


Vincent Turley

May 2017