The Republic of Ireland has threatened to veto Brexit trade talks unless Britain provides guarantees over Dublin’s border with Northern Ireland.
The Irish EU commissioner, Phil Hogan, said on Sunday that the border problem can easily be solved if British Prime Minister Theresa May drops her plans to take Britain out of the European Union customs union and the single market when it departs the 28-nation bloc in 2019.
“If the UK or Northern Ireland remained in the EU customs union, or better still the single market, there would be no border issue,” he said. “That’s a very simple fact.”
Britain’s international trade secretary, Liam Fox, quickly rejected Hogan’s solution. He told Sky News that the resolution of the border issue between the two Irelands will have to wait until details about future trade relations with the EU have been worked out.
“We don’t want there to be a hard border, but the UK is going to be leaving the customs union and the single market,” he said.
A hard border would make passport and customs controls mandatory, hampering business ties between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The EU has required sufficient progress on the border issue as a pre-condition to launch the Brexit trade talks next year before officially leaving the bloc in 2019.
In an interview with the Observer, Hogan (pictured above) also warned there was “blind faith” from some UK ministers that Britain would secure a comprehensive Brexit free trade deal. He warned that Ireland would “continue to play tough to the end” over its threat to veto trade talks until it had guarantees over the border.
The Irish government wants a written guarantee that there will be no hard border with Northern Ireland, something Dublin emphasizes can only be achieved, in effect, by keeping the region within the single market and customs union. However, May has repeatedly made clear that Britain will leave the single market and customs union, regardless of the border implications.
Ireland’s approach has also been rejected by Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionists, a Northern Ireland party that is using its votes in the parliament to prop up May’s minority government.
Foster told her party conference Saturday that the party would not back any agreement that “creates barriers” between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, in effect ruling out special status for Northern Ireland in the post-Brexit era.