Theresa May’s government to promise that a harsh Irish border will not return

  • UK government to publish a position paper on its plan to prevent the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.
  • Theresa May’s government vows to negotiate a “seamless and frictionless border.”
  • Ireland’s largest business group slams the paper as “unhelpful” and lacking in detail.
  • EU Commission tells Britain “frictionless trade” is not possible outside the customs union.

LONDON — The UK government will on Wednesday say it has a plan to prevent border posts between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit in the second position paper it has published this week.

The paper, expected to be published at midday (BST), will outline the government’s aim to maintain a “seamless and frictionless border between Northern Ireland and Ireland” once Britain leaves the EU and ensure there is no return to hard borders of the past.

“The paper states how the UK government will be pushing to avoid any physical border infrastructure and border posts between Northern Ireland and Ireland for any purpose following Brexit, in a comprehensive paper outlining the UK’s approach to addressing the unique circumstances for the border,” according to a government press release.

The Northern Irish border is one of the most sensitive issues in the Brexit debate and is one of the first problems British and EU negotiators will aim to resolve.

Nothern Ireland is the only part of the UK which will share a land border with an EU member state after Brexit as the Republic of Ireland will remain part of Europe after Britain leaves. Theresa May has confirmed Britain will leave the customs union in March 2019, consequently putting the invisible border between Ireland and Northern Ireland at risk.

The return of a hard border would likely unleash chaos.A Lords report published in December said there is €60 billion (approximately £55 billion) in trade between the UK and Ireland each year, and an estimated 30,000 people cross the Irish border every day. There are also real concerns that leaving the customs union could threaten peace in Northern Ireland as the free movement across the border was integral to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

On Tuesday, the government released a position paper on the customs union which proposed two possible long-term customs arrangement: A “new customs partnership” or a “highly streamlined customs arrangement.”

The first would align the UK and EU’s customs systems meaning no border between Northern Ireland and Ireland would be necessary, the paper claimed. The second would use technology to make cross-border trade as seamless as possible.

The government’s plans are “unhelpful” and lacking in detail

The European Commission took little time shoot down the government’s proposals for a new customs arrangement on Tuesday, reminding the British side “frictionless trade not possible outside the single market and customs union.”

The chief executive of Ireland’s biggest business group, Chambers Ireland, told the HuffPost the British government’s plans for Ireland are “unhelpful” and lack sufficient detail to tackle the complexities of the problem.

Chambers Ireland CEO Ian Talbot, who is likely to have had advanced copy of the position paper, said: “The UK’s unwillingness to engage in the very real practical, political and geographical complexities of what will be a new land border between the EU and the UK is unhelpful and does not bode well for the next round of Brexit negotiations.

“Further, technology is not a panacea to the issue of cross-border trade. While technological solutions may be helpful, they are one part of what will be a series of complex arrangements. Suggesting anything otherwise is unrealistic.

“We do not fully understand how the UK’s suggestion that they plan to have an open border with the EU ties into the immigration concerns they have expressed. This approach could also impact on Ireland’s immigration policy and obligations.

“Our Chamber members along the border have also highlighted several concerns businesses have about traceability and regulation, delays in travelling cross border for day to day business, education and social needs.”

A spokesperson for the Irish government welcomed the position paper as “timely and helpful” but warned: “Protecting the peace process is crucial and it must not become a bargaining chip in the negotiations.”

Labour MP Conor McGinn, who grew up in Northern Ireland, accused Theresa May’s government of “vagueness and posturing.” “These proposals on a light touch border are lighter still on detail,” McGinn said.