Border cause for concern
Posted By: January 18, 2017
Irish News Editorial. Belfast. Wednesday, January 18, 2017
While the political focus in Northern Ireland has been on the collapse of the Stormont structures, an even bigger issue is looming which will impact on the lives of people throughout this island.
Theresa May’s landmark speech yesterday shattered any remaining hope that the UK’s exit from the EU would be a soft Brexit, retaining some form of access to the single market.
The prime minister’s determination to remove Britain from the single market is a move that will cause deep concern in Northern Ireland.
Angela McGowan of the CBI warned that ruling out membership of the single market has “reduced options” for maintaining a barrier-free and tariff-free trading relationship between the UK and the EU.
Of course, it is not just the trading relationship with Europe that is at issue, but there are fears that a hard Brexit will lead to border controls between north and south.
The land border between the UK and the EU is a reality that the British government has to deal with but the concern is that any arrangements will not necessarily be in the best interests of Northern Ireland or the Republic.
Mrs May said keeping the common travel area would be a priority in the Brexit negotiations and while she talked about delivering a “practical solution”, we still have no clear idea what that solution will involve.
It is only seven months since the then home secretary, on an eve of referendum visit to Northern Ireland, said: “It is inconceivable that a vote for Brexit would not have a negative impact on the north/south border, bringing cost and disruption to trade and people’s lives.”
Mrs May may have changed her tune but the many people who rely on free movement throughout this island are genuinely worried about the impact of border controls.
With Stormont in limbo and the largely unknown and untested James Brokenshire said to be representing the north’s interests in any talks, those people will have even more reason to be apprehensive.