During Brexit negotiations, Ireland could emerge as the UK’s Achilles heel. If physical border controls are placed, it could give rise to a resurgence of violent militant protests.
According to Britain’s Northern Ireland minister, a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU could potentially ease the issue of the Irish border which will come into focus once Britain starts its divorce with the European Union.
James Brokenshire, having met officials and lawmakers from the EU in Brussels, echoed sentiments that matched those emerging from Dublin and the EU, which call for a new EU external land border across the island of Ireland.
British Prime Minister, Theresa May has earlier stated that she will trigger Britain’s formal withdrawal later this month.
On his part, Brokenshire stated that he has been assured of understanding from the EU with regard to the importance of preserving the 19-year-old peace deal under which goods and people cross the border unimpeded.
Brokenshire underscored the fact the agreement between Dublin and London that dates back to the century old Irish independence. Furthermore, he also highlighted the fact that Ireland will be outside EU’s passport-free zone.
When queried on the potential disturbance of trade once Britain leaves the EU’s single market, Brokenshire made it clear that London was open to deals on the EU’s customs union rules which could ease the flow of goods across the island.
If the EU will agree to the British proposals of a comprehensive free trade agreement, issues surrounding the Irish economy would become significantly less complicated.
“We’re very clear on having a desire to have that free trade agreement,” said Brokenshire. “I think that that is the best way to facilitate trade and business and to support the economy on the island of Ireland. That ability for businesses to be able to conduct their work in that integrated way is an important part.”
However, leaders from the European Union have made it amply clear that cherry picking will be frowned upon. The movement of goods and services will necessarily have to be linked with the movement of people. This is the very principle that binds the countries of the European Union.
Businesses from both sides of the Irish border fear disruption of business if EU’s rules applies to the south but not to the north. Furthermore, if physical border controls were to be introduced, there are fears of a resurgence of violent protests, some of it linked to organised crime.
Although officials from Brussel would like an early start to the Irish problem, however they are reluctant to openly talks on trade matters since London has yet to agree to EU’s demands, which among others, include settling outstanding bills to the Union.
Brokenshire declined to comment on whether the trade deal and negotiations on the Irish issue should run parallely.
When asked on the possibility of an open border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, he said, “The concept that we would be creating a new border across the Irish Sea is absolutely not what we are talking about”.