Court applies Good Friday agreement in spousal case

19 Feb 18



What is the change? A court in Belfast has ruled that an Irish woman born in Northern Ireland is an Irish citizen and has only ever been such. Under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, people born in Northern Ireland can choose to be British citizens, Irish citizens or have dual citizenship. In this case the Home Office initially rejected a residency application for the woman’s American husband on the grounds that his wife was British, even though she never carried a British passport. The ruling enables the husband to acquire residency in the U.K. as the spouse of an EU national exercising free movement rights.

What does the change mean? The case may benefit other Irish passport holders in their ability to avoid stringent U.K. immigration rules and have their non-EU spouse join them.

Background: The Home Office rejected a residency application by Emma de Souza for her husband, a U.S. citizen. De Souza was born in Northern Ireland and never held a British passport. The Home Office alleged that under the British Citizenship Act 1981, she was automatically considered a British citizen and would have to apply for her husband as a third-country national. The Home Office said de Souza could renounce her British citizenship and then make the application, but she refused and sued.

A tribunal in Belfast ruled in her favor, citing her rights under the 1998 Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. “Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, people of Northern Ireland are in a unique position within the United Kingdom. The British and Irish governments recognised the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves as Irish or British, or both,” Judge Gillespie said.

The Home Office may not appeal to the tribunal, but it is weighing whether to directly appeal to a higher court.

BAL Analysis: The case has implications for others holding an Irish passport resident in the U.K. and married to a non-EU citizen who now may file a residency application pursuant to EU free movement rather than under the stricter U.K. spousal residency criteria.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group in the United Kingdom. For additional information, please contact

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