Border negotiations between the British and Irish governments are at an impasse following a report which claims Dublin is hoping to establish a border in the Irish Sea, effectively mooting talk of a so-called “frictionless” border.
British Chancellor Philip Hammond rejected Dublin’s proposal Friday afternoon.
“The Irish government, the British Government and indeed the European Union Commission all share an ambition to ensure that we do not reinstate any kind of hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland,” Hammond told Sky News.
“That is a very high priority to us because the peace process in Ireland is extremely important to us. But the answer on how to deliver that cannot be to create a border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.”
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is said to be furious following the report, published Friday in the Times, that Ireland wants the Irish Sea to act as the post-Brexit border with the UK. The DUP is responsible for propping up Prime Minister Theresa May’s embattled government following a close election in June.
“There is no way that the DUP would go for an option that creates a border between one part of the United Kingdom and the other. Dublin really needs to understand that the proposition is absurd, it’s unconstitutional,” DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson told BBC Radio Friday.
The Irish government has expressed a desire to conduct customs and immigration checks roughly 10-15km (6-9 miles) away from the 310-mile (498km) land border and its ports and airports. Former Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan made similar suggestions over a year ago.
Dublin’s attitude has reportedly hardened following the appointment of Leo Varadkar as prime minister and his selection of Simon Coveney as his minister for foreign affairs last month.
“As far as this government is concerned there shouldn’t be an economic border. We don’t want one,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told reporters at a briefing in Dublin Friday.
“What we do not want to pretend is that we can solve the problems of the border on the island of Ireland through technical solutions like cameras and pre-registration and so on. That is not going to work,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers as cited by The Telegraph.
“Any barrier or border on the island of Ireland in my view risks undermining a very hard-won peace process and all of the parties in Northern Ireland, whether they are unionist or nationalist, recognize that we want to keep the free movement of people and goods and services and livelihoods,” he added.
The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland will be the UK’s only land frontier with the EU from 2019 onwards.
But the suggestion of a maritime border within the Irish Sea produces its own set of unique challenges as this could effectively cut the UK off from one of its region’s.
An average of 900,000 workers commute across the border on a monthly basis, reports The Telegraph, citing the Northern Ireland Select Committee.
The Republic of Ireland accounts for 25 percent of Northern Irish exports outside the UK while just 1.4 percent of Irish exports go the other way.
Speculation has increased that the hardening of Dublin’s stance may be a negotiation tactic before talks on a free trade deal begin in October.
At present, Brexit talks in Brussels take place for a full week each month, though there have been calls to increase the pace of negotiations.
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson accused Simon Coveney of “jumping the gun” after the report emerged this morning, reiterating suggestions that a technological solution could create a so-called “frictionless” border.
“I believe it is possible to arrive at this outcome. Modern technology is a wonderful thing,” he said on Irish state broadcaster RTÉ’s ‘Morning Ireland’ show.
“The Government has consistently said that the border issue is a political not a technical matter and it will require flexible and imaginative solutions,” a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs told the Irish Times.
“The risks of a hard border are not solely economic or trade related. It is also about communities and society and there are many factors that will have to be considered. The objectives of protecting the Good Friday agreement in all its parts and the gains of the peace process are shared by all sides,” they added.
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has likened Dublin’s concerns overt Brexit negotiations to the millennium bug fiasco.
“The whole thing about the customs union and the technical difficulties is all being turned by great superstition into the equivalent of the millennium bug,” the foreign secretary told the Lowy Institute in Sydney, as cited by The Times.