The Thorniest of Brexit Issues: The Northern Ireland Border

  • DUP’s Foster hearing talk from Europe on internal checks
  • Party leader says she wants as seamless a border as possible

DUP's Foster: Internal Borders in U.K. a Red Line

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The Democratic Unionist Party, which keeps U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May in power, vowed to resist any effort to create new controls within the U.K. after Britain exits the European Union.

The EU raised the possibility of placing controls on agricultural goods at Northern Irish ports, to avoid having to strengthen the border with the south of Ireland following Brexit, broadcaster RTE said on Wednesday, citing an internal memo. After the U.K. leaves the union, Ireland’s 310-mile (500-kilometer) border running from near Derry in the north to Dundalk in the south will form the EU’s land border with the U.K

“I see some talk coming out of Europe around that, but that’s just not acceptable,” DUP leader Arlene Foster said in a Bloomberg Television interview with Anna Edwards. “If there were to be a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K., that would be a red line for us.”

The DUP’s 10 lawmakers are propping up the Conservatives after May’s botched election gamble, placing them in a pivotal position as Brexit talks unfold. The question of how to control trade and immigration across the island of Ireland after Brexit is shaping up to be one of the thorniest issues of the negotiations.

While checks have largely melted away after a peace agreement in the 1990s following decades of violence, the Irish are worried that any new border infrastructure could become a target for attacks and disrupt cross-border trade.

We “want to see as seamless and frictionless border as we can possibly make” with the south of Ireland after Brexit, Foster said, adding that there’s already an economic border in place.

Progress Needed

The border is one of three key issues that have been identified, along with citizens’ rights and money owed by the U.K., that require “sufficient progress” toward a resolution during the Brexit negotiations before the EU will allow talks to move on to Britain’s future relationship with the bloc.

Agriculture could be treated on an all-Ireland basis, the EU told the Irish government in February, according to RTE. This would mean Northern Ireland meeting EU animal health and food safety rules and checks at the region’s ports on agri-food products coming in from Britain, possibly by EU inspectors, the broadcaster said.

Foster rejected any notion that Northern Ireland would be given any sort of special status within the U.K., and pointed exemptions for small businesses and trusted trader programs as possible solutions.

“There are answers out there,” she said.

Foster’s suggestions mirror those put forward by the British government in August. The EU has responded by saying it wants more detail and clarity from the U.K., while Ireland’s government wants the U.K. to remain in the customs union or form a new customs union to avoid the need for new controls.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told lawmakers in Dublin that he didn’t want to see a border placed “in the Irish Sea.”

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