Some of those living alongside the Irish border “go to bed in Northern Ireland and have their breakfast in the Republic of Ireland,” one resident living near the land boundary told Sky News earlier this week. This is, in part, why the discussions between the Irish and UK governments over the fate of the border in a post-Brexit landscape is so fraught.
Both countries have recognised that there cannot be a hard border, which means physical infrastructure and customs posts, but this has been thrown into doubt as the UK prepares to leave the EU in spring 2019.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s government presently intends that the UK will leave the EU’s single market and customs union. This means that the land boundary between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will become the external border for the EU’s single market and customs union.
However, the new Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar wants to see Northern Ireland continue to abide by EU legislation and for goods to
be able to move across the border. The UK government opposes the idea of the customs border being pushed out into the Irish Sea, and the effective creation of an internal customs border between Northern Ireland and the UK.
The exiting the European Union Committee published a report in which they concluded a conciliation of both stances appears impossible.
Both of the UK government’s proposed solutions have been criticised by the Select Committee. One proposal would see the use of “technology-based solutions”, including pre-screening of goods and trusted trader schemes that would reduce the need for customs checks at the border.
The second would see a customs partnership whereby the UK left the single market yet did not introduce a border between the EU and UK.
The Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said it would be hard to avoid physical checks given
legislation surrounding animal welfare, food safety and medical regulation could change following the UK’s departure from the EU.
He said: “What the British government has been asking of the Irish government is ‘just trust us we’ll solve these issues with a broad bold trade agreement.’
“But that may not be possible, we don’t know. We can’t be asked to leap into the dark by opening up phase two discussions in the hope that these issues might be resolved.”
“The area that we’ve focused in on is the need to give reassurance that there will not be regulatory divergence between the two jurisdictions on the island of Ireland, because if there is it is very hard to avoid a checking system,” he added.
Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, said the EU will support Ireland’s stance on the matter. Mr Tusk said: “If the UK offer is unacceptable for Ireland, it will also be unacceptable for the EU.
The UK started Brexit, and now it is their responsibility to propose a credible commitment to do what is necessary to avoid a hard border.”
Mr Tusk said the key to the UK’s future “in some way” lies in Dublin. Ireland hopes to resolve the
issue within two weeks.