UK dismisses idea of customs border in Irish Sea

The UK has strongly dismissed the the idea of a customs border in the Irish Sea, writes Elaine Loughlin and Daniel McConnell.

It comes after both the Taoiseach and foreign affairs minister had floated the idea in the first place, leaving Irish hopes severely dashed.

The UK’s position paper due to be published today will state that a border in the Irish Sea is “not constitutionally or economically viable”.

The paper also will claim that the UK Government will be pushing for a “seamless and frictionless” border and wants avoid any physical border posts and between Northern Ireland and Ireland following Brexit.

However, they will argue for “highly-streamlined customs arrangements” which could include a waiver on submitting entry/exit declarations and continued membership of the Common Transit Convention to help Northern Ireland and Irish companies transit goods.

While Leo Varadkar had softened his stance on creating a “hard shell” around the entire island, he has remained clear that the Irish Government is “not going to design a border for the Brexiteers”.

The Government had been pushing for a border in the Irish Sea — and not a soft border between north and south. This would see tougher checkpoints for sea and air crossings.

Last night, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said the Government is adamant that the ability for goods, people and services to travel freely across the border between north and south here is a “vital element of the Peace Process” which must be protected.

Mr Donohoe was speaking to the Irish Examiner after he held a 75 minute face to face meeting with his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schäuble, where he reiterated Irish concerns about the potential of the return of a land border.

He said: “I spoke to him about the North and the peace process. I was in Antrim over the weekend and that ability to allow people, goods and services cross the border is an absolutely vital part of the peace process, and the Irish Government views the maintenance of that with the highest political importance.”

Mr Donohoe said that there is a “high level of understanding” within the German government on the Irish issue.

He also highlighted the potential impact on Ireland’s agricultural sector of the UK’s exit from the EU.

“We have a very large market beside us, with similar tastes, so while the entire EU economy is exposed, the Irish economy is particularly exposed because of Irish agriculture and the integration of supply chains into the UK,” he said.

A British government source said both sides will now need to show “flexibility and imagination” on the border issue.

“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.”

Among the other priorities listed in the paper will be the protection of the Common Travel Area and associated rights for UK and Irish citizens, as well as upholding the Belfast Agreement.

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.


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