Brexit and Ireland


On 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom (UK) voted to leave the European Union (EU) in a referendum.

The UK left the European Union at 11:00 pm on 31 January 2020. The UK was then in a transition period until 31 December 2020.

Despite the UK’s departure from the European Union, Ireland and the UK remain in a Common Travel Area, which gives residency and travel rights (among other things) to Irish citizens in the UK, and British citizens in Ireland. You can read more about ‘Residence rights of UK citizens in Ireland.

The Withdrawal Agreement, transition period and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement

The Withdrawal Agreement between the EU and the UK was published in October 2019.

The Withdrawal Agreement is one of the main documents governing the relationship between the EU and the UK, but it does not resolve all of the issues between the EU and the UK.

The transition period was put in place to allow agreements to be reached between the EU and the UK without major disruption. It finished at the end of 2020.

A Trade and Cooperation Agreement was agreed between the EU and the UK and entered into force on 1 May 2021. This governs some of the matters which were previously dealt with under EU law such as trade in goods.

The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland

The UK’s only land border with the EU is the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. When the UK voted to leave the EU, it was not clear how this border would work.

As a result, a Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland was included in the Withdrawal Agreement. The purpose of the Protocol was to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, in a way that would protect the Good Friday Agreement and the EU single market.

Under the Protocol:

  • The Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK continues to be recognised along with the rights it grants to Irish and British citizens
  • Goods moving between Ireland and Northern Ireland do not have any customs, tariffs, or other restrictions placed on them
  • Goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK need additional paperwork and checks
  • Some EU laws continue to apply to Northern Ireland

The use of the Protocol is up to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Every 4 years after the end of the transition period, the Assembly can vote on whether it wants EU law to continue on things like customs, duties and regulations.

If they vote to end any part of the Protocol, the decision will come into effect 2 years later.

Windsor Framework

In February 2023, the UK Government and the EU agreed the Windsor Framework. The Windsor Framework changed some aspects of the Protocol. The Framework was formally adopted on 25 March 2023.

From September 2023, many goods travelling to Northern Ireland from Great Britain have reduced checks, and a simpler process for goods has been introduced. Goods going to Ireland and shipped through Northern Ireland still have to meet all EU customs and import rules.

Some EU law continues to apply to Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Assembly can trigger a Petition of Concern (also called the ‘Stormont Brake') to pause any new EU laws that would have a serious effect on the people of Northern Ireland.

Article 16 of the Protocol

Article 16 allows either the EU or the UK to take ‘safeguard measures’ if the Protocol leads to serious and persistent economic, social or environmental difficulties. If the EU or UK take safeguard measures (commonly called ‘invoking Article 16’), the other party could decide to implement ‘rebalancing measures’ to counteract the effect of the change.

Effects of Brexit

British citizens living in Ireland

British citizens continue to have the right to live and work in Ireland as part of the Common Travel Area. Family members of British citizens who are not themselves either British, EEA or Swiss citizens, must apply for residency. You can read about residence rights of UK citizens.

Irish citizens living in the UK

If you are an Irish citizen and you want to continue living in the UK, you do not need to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme. Your rights to live, work and access public services in the UK are still in place under the Common Travel Area arrangement. However, even though you do not need to apply to the scheme, your family members from outside of the UK and Ireland will need to apply.

Non-Irish EU citizens living in the UK

The UK set up an EU Settlement Scheme, under which EU citizens and their family members living in the UK could apply to continue living there after 30 June 2021.

EU citizens (except for Irish citizens) and their family members living in the UK had to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme for settled status if they wish to continue living in the UK after 30 June 2021. If you did not have 5 years’ continuous residence in the UK, you got pre-settled status instead.

  • Settled status means that you can live in the UK for as long as you want. You will have access to public funds and services (if you are eligible) and you can apply for British citizenship. Any children born in the UK after you get settled status will automatically be British citizens.
  • Pre-settled status means that you can live in the UK for a further 5 years. When you have had 5 years’ continuous residence, you can then apply to change to settled status. You must do this before your pre-settled status expires.

The deadline for most people applying was 30 June 2021. Some people can apply after this date.

You can get more information on applying for settled status in the UK, and the details of the EU Settlement Scheme on

Frontier workers

A frontier worker (also called a cross border worker) is a person who lives in one country, but works in another country. For instance, if you live in the Republic of Ireland and work in Northern Ireland, you are a frontier worker.

Irish citizens do not have to apply for a UK Frontier Work Permit but can still apply. The entitlements of Irish citizens to live, work and to access other benefits in the UK are protected by the Common Travel Area.

Other EEA and Swiss citizens who live in Ireland but worked in Northern Ireland (or another part of the UK) needed to apply for the UK’s Frontier Workers Permit Scheme to continue working there after 1 July 2021. If you started working in Northern Ireland for the first time after the end of 2020, you must apply through the UK Points Based Immigration System.

If you are a British citizen living in Northern Ireland and working in the Republic, you do not need documentation. The Irish Department of Justice can give you documentation if you request it. You can make a request by emailing, stating ‘frontier worker’ in the subject line.

Social security

The current arrangements for social security between Ireland and the UK have not changed. All social welfare payments made by the Department of Social Protection, including pensions and Child Benefit, continue to be paid as normal. Social security arrangements between the UK and the EU27 are also unchanged at present.

Cross border healthcare

You can no longer use the Cross-Border Healthcare Directive to access healthcare in the UK.

The Northern Ireland Planned Healthcare Scheme allows you to get healthcare in Northern Ireland in a similar way to the Cross-Border Healthcare Directive. The healthcare must be publicly available in Ireland. You must pay for the healthcare and then claim the cost from the HSE.

The Scheme is available until a permanent statutory scheme is approved. Residents of Northern Ireland could access healthcare in Ireland under the Republic of Ireland Reimbursement Scheme.

If you started your healthcare in the UK and began to receive that healthcare before 2021, you may still be able to apply for reimbursement under the Cross- Border Healthcare Directive until this scheme closed in September 2022.

Data protection

Before the end of the transition period, any personal information received by a company or organisation in the UK from companies and administrations in other member states was covered by the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).

Personal information can still be transferred from the EU to the UK based on a formal decision (called an adequacy decision) made by the European Commission on 28 June 2021. That adequacy decision will remain in place for 4 years unless the UK makes changes to its data protection legislation.

Consumer Rights

From 1 January 2021, you should be aware of the following changes:

  • Additional import charges and Value Added Tax (VAT) apply when you buy from websites in the UK (depending on the value of the items and where the product is manufactured)
  • EU consumer protection legislation may no longer apply, instead your consumer rights will be set down in UK law
  • It may be more difficult to resolve a dispute with a UK business

You can read about Buying online from the UK after Brexit.

Recognition of UK divorces

The Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Act 2020 (pdf) provides for the continued recognition in Ireland of most divorces, legal separations and marriage annulments granted in the UK.

Status of driver licences

You can continue to drive on a UK driving licence in Ireland if you live in the UK (including Northern Ireland) and are visiting Ireland. If you live in Ireland, you cannot drive on a UK driving licence. You should exchange your licence for an Irish licence.

Extradition to and from the UK

The prior European Arrest Warrant regime no longer applies to the UK in its current form.

The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement includes similar extradition rules and procedures to the European Arrest Warrant regime and these rules continue to allow extradition to Ireland from the UK and vice versa. These rules apply to extradition requests made after 11pm on 31 December 2020 and any requests before this date where the person sought had not been arrested at that time.

Further information

Page edited: 2 October 2023