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Ireland threatens to block progress of Brexit talks over border issue

Ireland has warned Britain that it will block progress of the Brexit negotiations with the European Union (EU) in December unless the UK gives a formal written guarantee that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

In sharp remarks before a meeting with UK Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday outside the EU Social Summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he would block any progress in Brexit negotiations about the future relationship with the EU unless the UK was prepared to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Varadkar said that Brexit-backing politicians in the UK had not “thought all this through” in the years they had been pushing for the UK to leave the EU.

“We’ve been given assurances that there will be no hard border in Ireland, that there won’t be any physical infrastructure, that we won’t go back to the borders of the past,” Varadkar said. “We want that written down in practical terms in the conclusions of phase one.”

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Friday urged the EU to move on to post-Brexit trade negotiations in order to solve the Irish border issue.

The issues of the Northern Irish border and how it works are intellectually, intimately bound up with the questions of the customs union, the single market, Britain’s relationship with those,” he said on Friday at a Dublin press conference with his Irish counterpart Simon Coveney.

“The British government has absolutely no interest whatever in seeing any kind of hard border,” Johnson said.

Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney (L) and Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson take part in a joint press conference at the Irish Foreign affairs office in Dublin on November 17, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The UK is due to leave the EU in March 2019, but Coveney suggested the exit process could take up to five years.

Britain’s withdrawal from the EU would effectively make the Republic of Ireland-Northern Ireland border an external EU border.

“Yes we all want to move onto phase two of the Brexit negotiations but we are not in a place right now that allows us to do that,” Coveney said. “We have very serious issues, particularly around the border, that need more clarity.”

EU leaders must agree that “sufficient progress” has been made on three key areas before talks can move on to a future trade deal. The three areas are the so-called divorce bill, which is the financial settlement with the EU; the rights of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in Europe; and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

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