- Liam Fox says there will be no Irish border solution until the end of Brexit talks.
- UK government “can’t come to a final answer” on the Ireland question until future trade is agreed, the Trade Secretary said.
- Irish government has threatened to block Brexit talks unless Theresa May guarantees no return to a hard border.
- Remain in the single market and customs union to stop the return of a hard border, Irish ministers have urged UK government.
LONDON -International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has been accused of holding Ireland to ransom after he said that there can be no solution to the border dilemma until future trade between Britain and the EU is agreed.
Conservative minister Fox said over the weekend that the UK government “can’t come to a final answer to the Irish question until we get an idea of the end state” amid concern in Dublin over the possible return of a hard border.
Responding to Fox’s remarks, Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness told the Guardian: “I hope that the UK is not holding the Irish situation to ransom in these negotiations. It is far too serious and far too critical.”
Fox was backed by fellow Brexiteer Kate Hoey on Monday morning. The Labour MP told Radio 4 that the Irish government “will have to pay” for any physical border after Brexit and urged Ireland to be more “positive” about leaving the EU.
Irish officials over the weekend said that Ireland would veto negotiations moving until the second phase unless Theresa May offers a solution that will prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit.
Its EU Commissioner, Phil Hogan told the Observerthat the veto threat was real, as did Ireland’s Minister for European Affairs, Helen McEntee, who told Channel 4: “We need the UK govt to come forward with what might be possible.
“Absolutely nothing has been brought forward [on border question]. We’ve been saying the same thing for 18 months.”
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said that he wants a written guarantee from his UK counterpart May that there will be no hard border after Britain leaves the European Union.
The Irish government believes that either Northern Ireland or the entire UK remaining members of the single market and customs union is the best way of avoiding the return of a physical border.
However, the UK government has insisted that the entire country will leave the EU’s core institutions on exit day in Marc, 2019, while the DUP – the Northern Irish party propping up Prime Minister May’s Conservative government – has warned it will oppose any attempt to keep Northern Ireland in the customs union.
The Irish border question has emerged as the most difficult question facing Britain as it attempts to unravel itself from the European Union.
“I don’t how a clue they are going to sort it out… Even the most optimistic view must accept there will be some sort of physical border” [unless UK stays in the single market and customs union],” a former senior EU official told Business Insider.
“I don’t think Ireland will have to block anything on its own”
The British side is determined for Brexit negotiations to move onto the next phase before New Year so they have as much time as possible to discuss future trade arrangements and a possible transition deal.
However, the EU has been insistent that talks cannot move on until “sufficient progress” is made on citizens’ rights, the size of Britain’s financial settlement, and the controversial issue of the Irish border.
This means the UK government is under pressure to produce a workable solution to the border question in time for the EU’s December summit or risk talks being stuck in deadlock into the New Year.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney told a committee last week that he believed the EU27 would not hesitate to stand by Ireland in blocking Brexit talks from moving beyond phase one if it was felt that the British side’s proposal for avoiding a hard border in Ireland was not satisfactory.
“I don’t think Ireland will have to block anything on its own,” he told the committee.
“There is absolute solidarity across the 27 countries here. They are with Ireland on this because we are making a fair but very firm case and I believe other European countries will stick with Ireland.”
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