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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

EU calls for no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic

The EU is demanding that there is no hard frontier on the island, saying regulations will remain the same across the entire island

The EU is calling for the soft-border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic to remain. Brian Lawless/PA
The EU is calling for the soft-border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic to remain. Brian Lawless/PA

The status of Northern Ireland in the post-Brexit world has been thrown into confusion after a draft European Commission paper was leaked that reveals the EU wants the region to retain the rules of the customs union and single market after Britain leaves the union. The EU is demanding that there is no hard frontier on the island, saying that regulations will remain the same across the entire island.

The proposal would in effect mean that the border between Britain and Europe would now be across the Irish Sea rather than along the shared border between Ireland and Northern Ireland – something which would be unpalatable to the British Tory party and utterly unacceptable to the Democratic Unionist Party without whose support the Conservatives would not be able to form a government.

The Irish issue, while one of the three divorce issues that needs to be settled in the first phase of talks, had taken a back seat as the UK argued that it was hard to find an agreement on the gnarly border issue until the future trading relationship was sorted out.

But Ireland is aware that it essentially has veto power now, and once talks move on to trade it will be just one of 27 countries fighting to get its voice heard. It has been considering seeking explicit guarantees on the border as a condition for progress in talks.

What the EU is demanding is all but impossible for Britain, unless the whole U.K. stays in the customs union, which prime minister Theresa May has ruled out. Ireland has consistently argued that the UK remaining in the customs union would be the easiest way to avoid a new border. But May insists Britain will leave as it can’t strike trade deals around the world otherwise.

The Irish government said late Thursday that Mrs May must make “strong and tangible commitments” to avoid a hard border. It would like the whole UK to remain in the customs union and single market, but failing that, wants to avoid on the island of Ireland “any regulatory divergence from the rules of the EU Internal Market and Customs Union.”

Meanwhile, Mrs May used firm words in an editorial in the Brexit-backing Telegraph that she won’t tolerate any attempts to by lawmakers to use amendments to the legislation to “try to block the democratic wishes of the British people by attempting to slow down or stop our departure from the European Union.”