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Home Office warns Northern Ireland border businesses on Brexit

Government says Common Travel Area will be at risk

By Emma Clark and Ed Carty

The Home Office has written to Northern Ireland businesses close to the border warning that Brexit would damage long-standing travel agreements between the two jurisdictions.

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Vernon Coaker has seen a copy of the letter from the Home Office to Newry Chamber of Commerce and Trade highlighting the dangers of leaving the EU. The Common Travel Area, an agreement between the UK and the Republic which pre-dates the European Union, allows citizens to travel freely over the border.

The Remain campaign says that the agreement would be put at risk, while the Leave campaign has insisted Brexit would not affect the rules.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Coaker said: "Both the Chancellor and the Northern Ireland Office have spelt out the consequences for the border of leaving the EU. I have a copy of a letter to the Newry Chamber of Commerce and Trade in which the Home Office also spells out the potential consequences for the Common Travel Area, given that an estimated 30,000 people cross the border every day.

"The letter states: If the UK left the EU these arrangements would be put at risk." Tory frontbencher Ben Wallace, a Northern Ireland minister, said: "The Common Travel Area existed before the European Union, but you are absolutely right.

"It is totally unclear what arrangements would exist after a Brexit. That is why the best solution is to remain in the European Union, so that we can take advantage of both the single market and the free travel of people, skills and trade that we enjoyed before membership."

Earlier this week George Osborne visited Warrenpoint Port in Co Down to outline his fears for the region if there was a vote to exit the European Union.

Meanwhile, farmers in the Republic have weighed into the Brexit debate by urging their friends and relatives in the UK to vote to remain in the EU.

Farm leaders in the Republic said the stakes were highest for their sector with food trade across the Irish Sea and into Northern Ireland worth £3.4bn a year. The Irish Farmers' Association said sales into the UK of half of Ireland's beef, 60% of the country's cheese, almost every mushroom and £273m of pork products are at risk from Brexit.

President Joe Healy said the sector would also face added costs from tariffs, quotas and border controls and the threat that Irish foods would be pushed off UK supermarket shelves if Britain strikes better trade deals with other countries.

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