Brexit protests in border areas earlier this year highlighted fears of the return of a hard border to the island of Ireland.
Elected representatives and representative bodies have welcomed principles outlined in yesterday’s paper from the British government on the border after Brexit, but say it remains to be seen how they will work in practice.
In the long-awaited paper outlining the British government’s position, the government said there should be no physical infrastructure, such as customs posts, at the border. Instead, they favour exemptions for small and medium-sized businesses in relation to new customs tariffs.
The government said objectives of the UK, the Irish government and the EU “are wholly aligned” in relation to avoiding a hard border, maintaining the Common Travel Area and upholding the Good Friday Agreement and the principles of North-South and East-West cooperation.
Joe McHugh, TD and minister of state, welcomed the principles set out by Britain, but said more detail will be needed in the months ahead.
“The principles are going in the right direction, but it’s how we achieve this next which is key,” Minister of State McHugh said.
He said, “I strongly believe we need to retain the current movement of people and goods north and south of this island”, and acknowledged the British government has recognised the importance of the Good Friday Agreement, calling that very welcome.
“With regard to the border, the government has consistently said that this is a political not a technical matter, and will require flexible and imaginative solutions,” he said. “The risks of a hard border are not solely economic or trade related, as we know here in Donegal and the north west.
“It is also about our communities and society, and there are many factors that will have to be considered,” the minister of state said.
Pat “the Cope” Gallagher, TD and leas-cheann comhairle, said he was not reassured by the paper.
“Whatever the outcome will be, it’s going to have serious implications for cross-border trade and perhaps traffic,” Deputy Gallagher said, saying he did not believe there was anything in the document to suggest “a seamless border” after the UK withdraws from the EU.
“I think both the European Union and the UK, with input from Ireland, will have to find a pragmatic solution to this,” Deputy Gallagher said.
Joe Healy, president of the Irish Farmers’ Association, said it was difficult to see how the principle of avoiding border infrastructure could operate, given that the UK intends to operate its own customs and trade policy, separate to the EU. He said the UK’s leaving the customs union amounts to a hard Brexit and would be very negative for Irish agriculture.
Similarly, Ibec, who represent Irish business, warned that a UK departure from the customs union would present serious challenges to avoiding customs checks and developing new customs arrangements with the EU.
“The recognition of the many unique problems that Brexit presents to Ireland is welcome, but we’re a very long way from resolving the issues,” Danny McCoy, Ibec CEO, said.