Status of Irish in Britain could change, says Theresa May

British PM suggests favourable deals likely to revolve around reciprocity for Brits abroad

Theresa May has declined to rule out a change in the status of Irish nationals living in Britain, suggesting the issue is part of a broader negotiation about the rights of EU citizens after Brexit. After Britain leaves the EU, it will be free to choose what rights to offer Irish citizens in the UK, including a continuation of the current arrangement under which they have most of the same rights as British citizens.

But in response to a question from Laurence Robertson, the Conservative chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the prime minister appeared to link the issue to securing a reciprocal arrangement for UK citizens living in the EU after Brexit.

“The issue of the rights of citizens of the Republic of Ireland, as you say, is on a different and longstanding historical basis from other members of the European Union. Obviously I’ve been clear that I want to at an early stage look at how we deal with these issues of people from other countries within the European Union who are living within the UK in order to offer reassurance,” she said.

“I’ve been clear in relation to citizens of the EU as a whole that we want to ensure that we also see UK citizens living elsewhere being treated on a reciprocal basis.”


Ms May restated her hope that there would be “no return to the borders of the past” but declined to rule out introducing passport checks for people travelling between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

“We want to ensure that we have the right relationship on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. That’s where the focus needs to be,” she said.

Scottish proposal

Earlier, the Scottish government outlined a proposal for Scotland to remain part of the European single market after Brexit, even if the rest of the UK leaves it. Introducing “Scotland’s Place in Europe” a blueprint for Scotland’s future relationship with the EU, first minister Nicola Sturgeon described the proposal as a compromise, stressing the best outcome would be an independent Scotland within the EU.

“I hope and expect that the UK government, in considering these proposals, will demonstrate the same flexibility and willingness to compromise,” she said.

The paper suggests that Scotland could remain in the single market either as a full or associate member of the European Free Trade Association (Efta) or through direct membership of the European Economic Area (EEA). Three of Efta’s four member states – Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – are part of the EEA, while the fourth, Switzerland, has a series of bilateral agreements with the EU which give it access to the single market.

The paper suggests that the UK government could sponsor Scottish membership of Efta, an option Denmark is considering for the Faroe Islands.

“This shows that a sub-state may enter into international agreements. In similar circumstances, and with its own legal system and strong administrative capabilities, Scotland would be well-placed to meet those requirements,” it says.

The paper also calls for some powers to be repatriated from Brussels to Edinburgh after Brexit and for more powers to be devolved from Westminster, including the right to negotiate international agreements.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times