Geoff Hill

Back door to Britain

The real problem with the Irish border is that it is being abused

I was working in Johannesburg when I first got wind of the fact that Ireland has become an illegal back door to the UK. If you’re from a country such as South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Fiji or Guyana, you need, not just a passport, but a prearranged visa, obtained from the local embassy for a fee, before you can even board a plane to Britain. It takes time, your details are checked, and you need to show a reason why you’ll go home at the end of your stay.

In the 1980s most African nationals could come to Britain visa-free. But worries about terrorism and crimes committed once in the UK meant that, one by one, African countries had to join the visa scheme. In 2009, South Africa joined too — not just because of anxiety about security but because the UK reckoned that the South African passport system was open to abuse. There were concerns nationals of other countries would apply for a South African passport so they could come to the UK.

So the visa scheme would seem to solve these problems and tighten security — except that Ireland asks for nothing of the sort. South Africans, for example, can fly into Shannon airport with just a passport and ‘supporting documents such as a hotel reservation’. Then it’s a simple matter of driving or bussing to Belfast before a ferry to the mainland. Those who’ve done it boast about this in Joburg.

Even after (and if) Britain leaves the EU, if limits are imposed on European travellers they will still be able to enter the country through Ireland. Backstop? I’d call it the ‘Irish flow-through’.

The visa system is vital because corruption and fraud are routine. In South Africa, the home affairs department that issues passports is endlessly in the press over bribes for asylum permits or fake birth certificates.

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