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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Brexit: Theresa May’s plans for ‘frictionless’ Irish border not possible, British politicians warn

A report by the Brexit select committee said the UK could not leave the Customs Union and avoid a hard border in Ireland

Traffic crossing at the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the village of Bridgend, County Donegal Ireland. British politicians have said Theresa May's current plans for a "frictionless" border post-Brexit are not possible. Brian Lawless/PA via Associated Press
Traffic crossing at the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the village of Bridgend, County Donegal Ireland. British politicians have said Theresa May's current plans for a "frictionless" border post-Brexit are not possible. Brian Lawless/PA via Associated Press

British politicians have said they do not believe Theresa May’s government’s plans for the Irish border after Brexit will work.

Members of Parliament on the Brexit select committee, which is examining Britain’s departure from the European Union, published a report on Friday on the progress of the UK’s negotiations so far.

The report said that government proposals for a "frictionless” border, which would be managed with new technology were "untested" and "to some extent speculative".

The committee said it would not be possible, as Mrs May maintains, to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland if the UK leaves the Single Market and the Customs Union.

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"We do not currently see how it will be possible to reconcile there being no border with the Government’s policy of leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union, which will inevitably make the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland the EU’s customs border with the UK,” the report read.

"It will be made harder by the fact that the Government’s proposals, by its own admission, are untested and to some extent speculative."

It added: "We call upon the Government to set out in more detail how a 'frictionless' border can in practice be maintained with the UK outside the Single Market and the Customs Union."

The report itself has been criticised by Brexiteer politicians, who said the report’s publication was only supported by members of the Committee who voted Remain in the 2016 referendum.

Conservative Party politician and Leave voter Jacob Rees-Mogg, told Sky News: "The report was carried entirely by the votes of members who wanted to remain in the EU.

"Inevitably it has wheeled out all the old Remoaner arguments and fears. It does not represent the positive view of Brexit that many people now take."

Northern Ireland has become a sticking point for the Brexit negotiations as some progress has been made on the other two key issues, the divorce bill and the rights of EU citizens. The British Prime Minister is due to meet Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, on Monday where she hopes to make an agreement on the three main issues in order to move onto trade talks.

Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney on Friday said that Brexit talks would not be able to progress to the next stage unless the issue of the Irish border was resolved.

Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney has called upon the UK to guarantee there will be no regulatory disparities between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.  Virginia Mayo/ EPA
Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney has called upon the UK to guarantee there will be no regulatory disparities between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit. Virginia Mayo/ EPA

Mr Coveney, who became Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) on Thursday, said he believed a solution was possible but that Dublin would not “leap into the dark” by allowing negotiations to move on without reassurances that the UK would not deviate too far from EU standards after Britain leaves the bloc. He asked for a guarantee from the UK that there will be no regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and the Republic in key areas such as agriculture and health.

"We believe it's possible to do that," he told BBC. "The area that we've focused in on is the need to give reassurance that there will not be regulatory divergence between the two jurisdictions on the island of Ireland, because if there is, then it is very hard to avoid a checking system.

"If you have different standards in terms of food safety, animal welfare, animal health, if you have different standards in relation to medical devices and the approval of drugs, how then can you maintain practical north/south co-operation as we have it today, if that regulatory divergence appears after Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK leaves the European Union."

Mrs May was facing another potential headache on Thursday as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which is propping up her minority Conservative government, threatened to withdraw their support over the Irish border issue.

Britain's prime minister Theresa May is facing a potential revolt by DUP politicians propping up her Conservative minority government. Neil Hall / Reuters
Britain's prime minister Theresa May is facing a potential revolt by DUP politicians propping up her Conservative minority government. Neil Hall / Reuters

One possible solution to the border problem- reported by various media- is to devolve further powers to Northern Ireland, which would allow the North to keep its rules on agriculture in line with that of the EU.

However, one of the DUP politicians that is supporting Mrs May’s government via a confidence and supply agreement, said his party would not accept any deal which would see Northern Ireland treated differently to the UK.

Sammy Wilson said: “If there is any hint that, in order to placate Dublin and the EU, they’re prepared to have Northern Ireland treated differently than the rest of the United Kingdom, then they can’t rely on our vote.”

“They have to recognise that, if this is about treating Northern Ireland differently, or leaving us half in the EU, dragging along behind regulations which change in Dublin, it’s not on.”

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