Government keen to avoid creation of border frontier

Posted By: August 16, 2017

John Manley. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, August 16, 2017

THE British government is keen to avoid the creation of border posts and a physical frontier with the Republic in its proposals for maintaining free movement after Brexit.

In a position paper published today, Whitehall will restate its commitment to a “seamless and frictionless” frontier between North and South, while dismissing a “customs border” in the Irish Sea between Britain and Ireland as “not constitutionally or economically viable.”

The paper sets out two potential scenarios after the UK breaks ties with Brussels – a new “customs partnership” or a “highly streamlined customs arrangement.”

It seeks a time-limited transition period and makes clear that there will be “no return to the hard borders of

the past.”

Under the new customs partnership proposal, trading arrangements between the two jurisdictions and the EU would be “aligned,” resulting in no checks whatsoever on goods moving between Ireland and Britain, or over the border.

The second “highly-streamlined” scenario is less straightforward and would see the UK negotiate agreements with the EU to reduce trade barriers and harness technology to avoid long queues at ports.

Under this arrangement, the small and medium-sized businesses that conduct more than 80 per cent of cross-border trade would be granted customs exemptions.

The Whitehall paper will also make clear the British government’s plans to protect the Common Travel Area (CTA) and associated rights for Irish and UK citizens while upholding all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. It calls on the EU to also prioritize these objectives, with the aim of securing swift agreement.

A British government source said both sides in the negotiations needed to “show flexibility and imagination” when it comes to the border.

“As Michel Barnier himself has said, the solution cannot be based on a precedent so we’re looking forward to seeing the EU’s position paper on Ireland,” the source said.

“But it’s right that as we shape the unprecedented model, we have some very clear principles.”

Top of the UK wish list, the source said, was “no physical border infrastructure” and no border posts.

“Our paper sets out some creative options on customs and shows the priority we place on making progress on this,” the source said.

The paper will set out how vital trade is for the economies of both islands.

In 2015 Northern Ireland sold £10.7bn of goods to Britain and a further £2.7bn to the Republic. Last year Britain exported £13.6bn of goods to the south and imported £9.1bn.