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#Brexit: Irish border issues reach impasse

| November 10, 2017 | 0 Comments

Of the three issues that need to be agreed on in the first phase of Brexit negotiations – the financial settlement, citizens’ rights and the Irish border – it looks increasingly as though the border issue is the one question that is furthest from resolution. The UK is taking an entrenched view that is unacceptable to Ireland and the EU-27, writes Catherine Feore.

David Davis said at today’s (10 November) press conference, following the sixth round of negotiations, that negotiators continued to have good technical discussions and are drafting joint principles and commitments that will guide discussions in the second phase.

While committed to avoiding physical infrastructure, Davis said:

“We respect the European Union’s desire to protect the legal order of the single market and customs union, but this cannot come at the cost of the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom. We recognize the need for specific solutions for the unique circumstances, but let me be clear this cannot amount to creating a new border within the UK.”

This appears to confirm the views expressed by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire, in an article for Brexit Central – the news service developed by Vote Leave campaign. Brokenshire wrote that the UK has already set out a “clear and positive” stand,  but this stand has already been rejected by Ireland as unrealistic.

While Ireland and the EU-27 as a group will not allow the integrity of the Single Market to be called into question, Brokenshire says that nothing must be done to undermine the integrity of the UK’s single market, emphasizing that  Northern Ireland companies sold four times as much to Great Britain than to Ireland.

Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, said on Irish radio this morning that he was concerned about progress on the border:

“We are very concerned at what the future holds in the context of Brexit. If Britain is anxious to move onto phase two the Irish issues around the border are serious issues that require serious and credible answers.”

Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier reiterated that the Irish border requires specific solutions. Barnier said that technical and regulatory solutions that protect the integrity of the single market and prevent a hard border need to be found.

The Commission argue that since the UK and EU are both committed to protecting and supporting the continuation and development of different institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement, a future relationship will have to respect the integrity of the internal market and the EU’s customs union.

The Commission’s negotiators have drawn the inevitable conclusion that it will be essential for the UK to commit to ensuring that there is no regulatory divergence form those rules of the internal market and the Customs Union which are – or may be in future – necessary for meaningful North-South co-operation.

The question we need to ask now is what happens when an irresistible force (the EU) meets an immovable object (Northern Ireland’s Unionist politicians).

Ultimately, if no agreement is reached, a hard border will be reinstated. With different customs duties, it is highly likely that smuggling – which is closely linked to paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland – will increase. Community relations in the border area will also be permanently damaged. Two economies that have become interwoven will be slowly picked apart, with economic actors retreating to their own markets and both economies will be damaged as a result.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the costs of failure will be more profound on the UK side of the border, which means the cost of failure will be paid for by the UK tax payer. How costly this will be is difficult to estimate. If the Good Friday Agreement is violated, the UK will also have to accept the political cost of a failed peace process.

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Category: A Frontpage, Brexit, Economy, EU, EU, European Commission, featured, Featured Article, Ireland, Politics, UK

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