- Confusion over the future of Ireland’s border with Northern Ireland threaten to derail the progression of the UK’s Brexit talks with the EU.
- It’s a hugely politically sensitive matter, with the Irish government – which will remain an EU member state post-Brexit – insisting there can’t be a hard border with Northern Ireland.
- Prime minister Theresa May has just days to sort the matter out before the UK can move talks with the EU on to trade.
Ireland’s European commissioner for agricultural, Phil Hogan, has warned his country would prevent the UK’s Brexit negotiations from progressing on to trade if it doesn’t resolve the border issue.
Hogan told The Observer that Ireland would “continue to play tough until the end” and potentially veto trade talks until the UK made certain guarantees over its border.
The Irish government wants guarantees that there would be no hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland once the UK leaves the European Union.
Hogan’s comments present a new challenge for prime minister Theresa May, who has days left to move the UK’s talks with the EU on from the opening issues of citizens’ rights, the Irish border, and the Brexit bill, to trade. EU officials will want to see sufficient progress on all three before permitting negotiations to move to trade.
Here’s what Hogan said:
“If the UK or Northern Ireland remained in the EU customs union, or better still the single market, there would be no border issue. That’s a very simple fact. I continue to be amazed at the blind faith that some in London place in theoretical future free trade agreements. First, the best possible FTA with the EU will fall far short of the benefits of being in the single market. This fact is simply not understood in the UK. Most real costs to cross-border business today are not tariffs – they are about standards, about customs procedures, about red tape. These are solved by the single market, but not in an FTA.”
The issue boils down to this: once the UK leaves the EU, Northern Ireland will leave too. But the Republic of Ireland would remain an EU member – and it shares an invisible border with Northern Ireland. Post Brexit, prime minister Theresa May wants to institute border controls between the two countries to stop smuggling between the UK and EU – something many claim would exacerbate historic tensions between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
While the Irish government wants to keep the entire region within the EU’s customs union, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party said it wouldn’t accept a post-Brexit deal that involved “internal barriers” with Britain.
The DUP props up the minority Conservative government in Westminster through a confidence-and-supply deal after the 2017 general election.
Leader Arlene Foster said at the DUP’s annual conference: “We will not support any arrangements that create barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom or any suggestion that Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK, will have to mirror European regulations.”