So although the people of these islands will be spared passport checks and other inconvenient and impractical measures, thanks to steadfast Conservative and Unionist opposition, the government remains committed in principle to their instigation. Resisting Labour on this issue remains a rolling imperative, and in today’s Belfast Telegraph Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Owen Paterson, explains the matter’s special relevance to the province and the manner in which integrated political involvement at Westminster can allow voters here a real say in national issues which affect them.
Economic and practical effects of removing the CTA would be felt both north and south of the Irish border, but Northern Irish people would find themselves disproportionately inconvenienced by Labour’s proposals, being ‘no longer…able to travel throughout the UK without showing their passport’. Impacting an integral part of the United Kingdom in this fashion clearly raises constitutional difficulties which are not justified by necessity. Paterson quotes Lord Glentoran, his party’s Northern Ireland spokesman in the House of Lords,
“It occasionally gets forgotten that Northern Ireland is as integral a part of the United Kingdom as Yorkshire or Lancashire. I do not know what the Yorkshireman and the Lancashire folk would feel if they had to provide identification in the form of passports to travel from one county to the other. That is effectively what this Bill is doing for the Northern Ireland folk. Over the years we have had free travel, which has worked wonderfully. The reason that it was necessary and still is necessary is that those who benefit from it are, largely, the poorest in our society.”
And reading Paterson’s account, detailing the process whereby Labour’s initiative was checked, the benefits of participating fully in UK wide politics become obvious. Northern Irish politicians could not have achieved this result on their own. Opposition was centred on the Shadow Home Office’s close liaison with the Shadow Northern Ireland team. An amendment was tabled in the Lords and passed with the aid of Ulster Unionist and Lib Dem support. Democratic Unionist Party peers were absent from the Houses of Parliament during the relevant vote.
“The Government attempted to reintroduce the Clause in June but backed down following sustained pressure from Conservatives in both Houses.”
Damian Green, Shadow Immigration Minister, welcomed Woolas’ decision to consign Labour’s attack on the CTA to the ‘long grass’ by noting that it has been ‘offensive in principle to many of our fellow citizens’ and ‘constitutionally reckless’. Clearly unionist instincts have guided Conservative policy in this area.
Paterson’s conclusion articulates the argument for Northern Irish voters casting a vote for a national party in Westminster elections.
“This whole sorry and unnecessary episode demonstrates why it is essential that Northern Ireland be brought as rapidly as possible into the mainstream of UK politics. Westminster continues to make crucial decisions, including those on the Common Travel Area, which affect every single citizen in Northern Ireland. Westminster is dominated by the main political parties and it is only by being a fully involved, integral part of that political system that the interests and concerns of Northern Ireland’s people can be properly defended.”