Britain seeks Brexit without borders for Northern Ireland

The British government has said it does not want any border posts between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in its new position paper on Brexit

16 August 2017, 7:54am
The future status of the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is one of the thorny issues the European Commission has insisted must be resolved early in negotiations
The future status of the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is one of the thorny issues the European Commission has insisted must be resolved early in negotiations
There should be no border posts between Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland after Brexit, Britain said in an early attempt to resolve one of the most complex aspects of its European Union exit.

In the latest of a series of papers covering different aspects of Britain’s future relationship with the EU, David Davis’s Brexit department will say it hopes to agree upfront with the EU that there will be no need for “physical infrastructure” such as new border posts.

The future status of the land border between Northern Ireland, which will leave the EU along with the rest of the UK, and the Republic, which will remain a member, is one of the thorny issues the European Commission has insisted must be resolved early in negotiations, before discussions about future trade relations can begin.

Some 30,000 people cross the 500 kilometre border every day without customs or immigration checks, testing negotiators who have to work out how to tighten controls without inflaming tensions in a region where around 3,600 people were killed before a peace agreement in 1998.

The British government said in a paper due to be published on Wednesday that it wanted a seamless and frictionless frontier without "physical border infrastructure and border posts", arguing that new customs arrangements it proposed on Tuesday would allow the free flow of goods.

"Both sides needs to show flexibility and imagination when it comes to the border issue in Northern Ireland," a British government source said.

Britain put forward two options for future customs arrangements with the EU on Tuesday, the first would involve no customs border at all, while a second detailed 'highly-streamlined' customs checks.

The government acknowledged that the second option would require “facilitations reflecting the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland” – such as “new trusted trader arrangements” for large firms, which business groups are likely to fear could impose new administrative burdens.

However, the idea met with scepticism among some of Britain's soon-to-be former EU partners, with one EU official describing the idea of an invisible border as 'fantasy'.

"We have some very clear principles. Top of our list is to agree upfront no physical border infrastructure — that would mean a return to the border posts of the past and is completely unacceptable to the UK," the British source said.