Tuesday 25 September 2018

Return of border checks 'inevitable' post-Brexit - warn British MPs

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

A return of border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic appears inevitable after Britain leaves the EU, British MPs have warned.

The Commons Exiting the EU Committee said it appeared impossible to reconcile the UK Government's decision to pull out of the single market and the customs union with its declared intention to maintain a "frictionless" border.

It said the government's proposals for dealing with the issue, including using technology to create a "light touch" border, were "untested and to some extent speculative".

"We do not currently see how it will be possible to reconcile there being no border with the Government's policy of leaving the single market and the customs union, which will inevitably make the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland the EU's customs border with the UK," the committee said.

But the report split the committee with four of the eight Conservatives present as well as the lone Democratic Unionist voting to reject it.

The comments come as European Council President Donald Tusk travels to Dublin today to hold talks with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, as Brexit negotiations intensify.

Today's talks are expected to focus on the border issue, along with the UK's financial settlement, and the rights of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit.

Next Monday sees a meeting between British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, before the crucial summit in mid-December.

The MPs' reports' findings echo the concerns of Varadkar's government which has demanded a written guarantee from the UK that there will be no return to the "hard border" of the past as a result of Brexit.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that without such an assurance, EU leaders will not give the green light for the second phase of the Brexit negotiations, including talks on a free trade deal, to begin at their summit on December 14 and 15.

In its report, the committee urged the UK government to begin work on ensuring the flow of goods in and out of the UK continued as freely as possible, regardless of whether there was a deal, including installing electronic customs checks and the construction of a lorry park at the Port of Dover.

But it added: "Such measures would not deal with all the risks of serious delays in Dover and would have to be reciprocated across the Channel in order to be effective."

The report also called on UK ministers to publish a white paper explaining how its proposed two-year transition period after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 would work in practice.

It said any agreement between the UK and the EU on future citizens' right should be "ring-fenced" to ensure the status of EU nationals living in the UK and British nationals in the EU was guaranteed regardless of whether there was a wider deal.

The cross-party committee's chairman, Labour MP Hilary Benn, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning: "Ministers say they don't want a border, they don't want any infrastructure. We all agree with that, but we didn't see, as a committee, how currently that can be reconciled with the Government's decision to leave the customs union and the single market.

"We call on the Government to set out more clearly how it is it thinks that this can work in practice, because it published its paper, which talks about two options - a highly streamlined customs arrangement ... a new customs arrangement with the European Union.

"It admits that its proposals are untested and at the moment it's not clear how this might work. But this is of fundamental importance."

He added: "Self-evidently, the Irish Government is not persuaded by what it has read so far."

Mr Benn said the committee continued to seek the full, unedited versions of Department for Exiting the EU analyses of the impact of Brexit on different sectors of the economy, which were handed over in redacted form earlier this week.

"That is what the House of Commons asked for," he told Today. "It said the material should be given to the Brexit select committee. It didn't say that the material should be edited or filleted in any way.

"It should be passed over and it should be the job of the committee - that's what we think - to decide what should be published."

Additional reporting: PA

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