Deciding on how the Irish border will operate after Britain leaves the European Union is a crucial and incredibly sensitive issue in the latest Brexit negotiations – bearing in mind the decades of violence which ended following the Good Friday agreement in 1998.
The Swedish Government recently insisted that it’s up to British politicians to come up with their own solution and not for Europe to decide, so the pressure is on Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab to change the mind of his strong-willed EU counterpart Michel Barnier.
Raab has just admitted to a House of Lords Committee that he doesn’t yet have a solution and that he’s focusing on the detail – as Barnier has conceded that the bloc is in a position to offer Britain a unique deal …..and promising to respect key demands.
So, although both sides have so far adopted a hard and defiant line over the Irish border, will Barnier’s recent announcement about respecting Britain’s main wishes finally lead to a breakthrough on this vital ad multi-layered issue?
Prime Minister Theresa May has so far been adamant that the currently invisible boundary should be retained and that carrying out physical checks on people crossing a hard border down the Irish Sea would be “unworkable” and unacceptable. Additionally, German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass has recently appealed to his EU 27 counterparts to unite on the issue, asserting “we have to avoid a hard border, it is a pivotal issue.”
Consequently, the Government has said more information about arrangements for land border trade will be released soon – but it believes the answer lies in a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement where Britain would collect import duties on behalf of the EU, plus utilise new technology to complete border checks without having to stop vehicles.
Meanwhile, the Irish Government wants Britain to remain in Europe’s customs union and single market, while the EU dismissed both these suggestions and proposed a backstop clause to keep the UK in the customs union until the Brexit transition period expires (December 2021), by when a future customs agreement can hopefully be reached.
In a new twist, this latest EU proposal didn’t go down well with many politicians in Brussels, as well as hard line Brexiteers – and the backstop is considered to be the main sticking point hampering progress.
However Barnier has now said he’s more open to amending the initial backstop clause although he feels strongly that border checks are vital to protecting the single market’s food safety standards.
The Irish border is still probably the most complex of all the Brexit negotiations and continues to swing both ways, but as always we will be following developments closely and decoding announcements as necessary, so keep checking in to stay best informed.