Irish Border center stage at Westminster and in EU negotiations

Posted By: May 03, 2018

Lords debate exposes friction between Dublin and London over Brexit.

Wed, May 2, 2018, 21:09
Denis Staunton London Editor. Irish Times. London. Wednesday, April 2, 2018
Wednesday’s debate in the House of Lords about Brexit and the Border was an elegant affair, with Chris Patten and Northern Ireland minister Ian Duncan quoting lines from Louis MacNeice to one another and peers displaying elaborate courtesy as they argued. The debate underscored the central position the Border now occupies in the Brexit negotiations, and in Theresa May’s efforts to agree on a common position with her ministers on future customs arrangements.

The debate also exposed, however, the rawness which has entered into the atmosphere between London and Dublin and between unionist politicians and their counterparts in Dublin.

Patten poked fun at Brexiteers who blamed Dublin for the impasse over the Border, and at David Davis’s theory about who was pulling Leo Varadkar’s strings:“The secretary of state for exiting the European Union said that the problem was because the leader of the Fine Gael party, the Taoiseach, was in the pocket of Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin and Fine Gael – I think the secretary of state must have been away the day they did Irish history at school,” he said.

But former Alliance leader John Alderdice said the idea of a coalition between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin was not such a fanciful one,  and historian Paul Bew agreed, pointing to an email exchange between the Taoiseach’s office and Sinn Féin “showing an intimacy of spirit which nobody would have believed possible from a Fine Gael government”.

David Trimble was one of a number of speakers who complained that Dublin and Brussels were engaging with only one community in Northern Ireland, suggesting that making deals over the heads of the people was a greater threat to peace than Brexit.

“If future arrangements are to be made over the Northern Ireland Border it is obvious that you have to have the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives closely involved in that. If not, you are going to make the same mistake,” he said.