Sunday 17 November 2019

Westminster committee calls on UK for 'realism' in approach to Irish border post-Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech at the Mansion House in London on the UK's economic partnership with the EU after Brexit. Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech at the Mansion House in London on the UK's economic partnership with the EU after Brexit. Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Colm Kelpie

A Westminster committee has penned a letter to the UK government calling for "realism" in its approach to the border post Brexit.

In a detailed letter, the House of Lords EU Committee said it is concerned at the lack of detail from Downing Street around how technological solutions for the border, as the Government has repeatedly stated could be used, would work.

The Committee visited Ireland last month for three days of evidence in Dublin, Belfast and Derry.

It has now written to Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley outlining its concerns.

The committee said the evidence it had received suggests that there is potential in the longer term to develop technological solutions, not only at the UK-Irish border, but at all UK-EU borders, so as to streamline the cross-border movement of goods.

"We therefore do not dismiss the Government’s proposals out of hand," the letter stated.

"Nevertheless, there is a need for realism. We note that, while customs processes have been streamlined and made more efficient, the EU external border, for instance with Switzerland and Norway, retains a physical manifestation.

"The evidence we received from Swiss and Norwegian customs authorities indicates that many technological developments are a long-term aspiration. We therefore see little prospect that the technology required entirely to resolve the Irish border issue could become operational under the timetable for Brexit currently envisaged."

Read more: Protecting Good Friday Agreement 'at the heart' of Theresa May's 'approach' to Brexit

The committee stated that it was "concerned at the lack of detail as to how technological solutions would work, and the lack of time available to implement them".

"We also doubt, on the basis of the Swiss experience, that such solutions would be acceptable to the EU.

"We therefore conclude that, while proposals for technological solutions, trusted trader schemes and small firm exemptions may be helpful by way of mitigation in the long term, they can only ever be a partial solution to the issues raised by Brexit."

The committee said a "fundamental solution" was urgently required, adding that as London has ruled out remaining in the single market and customs union, "it is difficult to see what that solution would be".

The committee also said that Brexit had heightened political tensions and divisions, between north and south, and between the UK and Irish governments.

These should not be "overstated", though, the letter adds, saying there is much common ground, including the desire to avoid any new barriers to trade.

"In the febrile atmosphere of the Brexit negotiations, there is an overriding need for cool heads, to identify solutions that all sides can accept," the letter states.

"In an era of blossoming bilateral relationships, after long years of mistrust and misunderstanding, we urge the [UK] Government to be sensitive to the implications of its actions for the people and communities of Ireland, North and South."

Online Editors

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