Sunday 18 March 2018

Irish ambassador to UK: Fully controlling movement of people and goods between north and south not 'remotely possible'

Irish ambassador Dan Mulhall
Irish ambassador Dan Mulhall
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

Fully controlling the movement of goods and people across the border between north and south is not "remotely possible", Ireland's ambassador to the United Kingdom has said.

Veteran diplomat Dan Mulhall said the European Commission will not be trying to create problems for Ireland post Brexit in terms of the "modest quantities" of cross border trade.

He added the UK will not be "taking back control" of its border in the north if it wants to maintain the common travel area, despite border security being a key plank of the Brexit campaign.

He said monitoring the border fully given the level of traffic and crossings wasn't doable.

"Even if somebody wanted to, the effort involved, I just don't think it's remotely possible to think in terms of having a border that really controls every movement of goods and people accross, so we have to find practical solutions, " the ambassador told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

He argued that there was “always flexibility” within the European Union to make things work.

“I haven’t got any impression that any of my colleagues in governments are looking to throw a spanner in the works and make life difficult for Ireland,” he said.

Although both the UK and Irish governments have argued that there is no desire for a hard border, Prime Minister Theresa May’s ambition to leave the single market and potentially pull the UK out of the customs union has raised fears that border controls will be required.

Former European Commission customs expert Michael Lux told the Committee last week that Ireland would be obliged to implement controls on this side of the border, even if it didn’t want to, because it would be an EU frontier.

The veteran diplomat, with almost 40 years experience, said that Europe has a “reasonable understanding” of the need not to do anything to create problems or destabilise the political situation in Northern Ireland.

The ambassador told the committee that there were more than 200 crossings on the border.

He said there were 177,000 lorry crossings over the border each month, 208,000 light vans and 1.85 million cars.

“It may be that even those figures don’t pick up the huge scale of it,” he said.

Under questioning from Lady Sylvia Hermon MP about the prime minister’s stated desire to take back control of the UK’s borders, Mr Mulhall said: “The intention is to maintain the common travel area which means they will not be taking back control of that border.”

Mr Mulhall said nothing will stop EU citizens from entering the UK through Ireland, but that if they want to live and work in the UK, they “may be breaking UK laws”.

He said the free movement principle was not about the right to enter a country, but the right to settle there.

Online Editors

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business