The British government has fantasy “non-solutions” to the Irish border and are indifferent to the fallout from Brexit for Ireland, Sinn Féin president Mary-Lou McDonald has claimed.
The North’s border will be the UK’s only land frontier with an EU state after next year’s withdrawal and is one of the most vexed issues facing negotiators in Brussels.
British prime minister Theresa May’s cabinet is considering whether to support a customs partnership with the EU after Brexit, whereby the UK would effectively collect tariffs on behalf of the bloc, or a technological solution to border control known as ‘maximum facilitation’.
Ms McDonald told the ard fheis: “Allowing the Tories to dodge, equivocate, and engage in fantasy non-solutions to the Irish question is most certainly not the answer. If the architects of Brexit still can’t agree what Brexit looks like, that is their problem. It will not become Ireland’s problem.”
The British government has said it is committed to ensuring trade and the passage of people and services across the island is “frictionless” after next year’s withdrawal from the EU.
The intention is to avoid installing customs posts on the border. Brexit secretary David Davis has attempted to allay the fears of cross-border businesses concerned about the impact of customs checks at the currently free-flowing frontier.
He has suggested a technological solution or a trusted trader scheme whereby paperwork would be cleared in advance. Ms May has pledged no return to the heavily-militarised border of the past during the Troubles.
The expectation is that a deal would need to be struck between European leaders and Britain by this autumn to avoid the UK dropping out of the union without an accord.
Ms McDonald told the ard fheis in Belfast this weekend that this month’s summit of European leaders in Brussels represented “crunch time”.
She said there could be no progress to the next phase in negotiations without an answer to the Irish question.
“This challenge is as real for unionism as it is for republicans and nationalists,” said Ms McDonald. “Treading water, fingers crossed and hoping for the best is not a strategy at this time.
“Propping up a Tory government that glories in wilful ignorance and indifference to Ireland is not the way forward.”
The DUP’s 10 pro-Brexit MPs are supporting Ms May’s minority government in key votes.
Sinn Féin is pressing for the North to remain part of the EU’s customs union after Brexit.
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