Britain’s Brexit border proposals are ‘delusional’, Sinn Féin says

DUP welcomes UK government’s paper as ‘constructive’ with ‘plenty of ideas’

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill holds a press conference at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 16, 2017. See PA story POLITICS . Photo credit should read: David Young/PA Wire

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill holds a press conference at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday August 16, 2017. See PA story POLITICS . Photo credit should read: David Young/PA Wire

 

The DUP has described the British government’s proposals to manage the North-South border after Brexit as “constructive”.

It has also welcomed its commitment to avoid any customs posts on the border after the UK quits the European Union.

In contrast Sinn Féin portrayed the British “Northern Ireland and Ireland” Brexit position paper published on Wednesday as “delusional” and “big on rhetoric but thin on actual commitments”.

The paper envisages no border posts after Brexit and future customs arrangements whereby 80 per cent of businesses involved in cross- border trade would be exempt all any new tariffs.

The paper suggests that any customs payments for the 20 per cent of bigger traders could be managed through “simplified customs procedures” such as “reduced declaration requirements and periodic payment of duty”. It appears to rule out electronic and CCTV surveillance of goods across the border which senior British sources had said would be in the document.

The British government in the paper pledges its full commitment to the Belfast Agreement, rules out any notion of having a border in the middle of the Irish Sea and guarantees that the common travel area that allows the free movement of people between Britain and Ireland will be protected.

DUP leader Arlene Foster in welcoming the paper said its proposals demonstrated the British government “has listened to voices in Belfast, Dublin, Brussels and London about how the United Kingdom’s only EU land border could be managed after we exit the EU”.

“I welcome the commitment to a seamless border and movement of goods between Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is also welcome news that the government will not countenance any new border in the Irish Sea,” she added.

Plenty of ideas

Ms Foster said the document had “plenty of ideas” on how to technically and administratively address the movement of people and goods across the border. “It also illustrates that if obstacles do occur they will be purely political,” she said.

Ms Foster called on the EU to engage properly with the proposals. “EU negotiators have used many sweet words about not wanting to disrupt the peace process or damage the Irish economy. Therefore, it would be an act of gross hypocrisy if is not an honest and genuine attempt to engage in dialogue with our government along the lines contained in this document,” she said.

“We are pleased that the relationship between the DUP and the Conservative party can be seen to bear fruit in many ways, including in the EU exit negotiations. We look forward to continuing to work as the negotiations process,” added Ms Foster.

Light on clarity

Sinn Féin’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill, said she was not comforted by the proposals which she described as “big on aspiration but light on clarity”.

“I don’t believe the wider public out there will be comforted from what they read today because, whilst the British government might say they don’t want to see any kind of hard border or technology put in place, it will not be within their gift to deliver that; it will be the other European member states, who clearly think and believe we need to see customs controls,” she said.

She accused the British government of having only a “fleeting concern” on how Brexit would impact on Northern Ireland.

She repeated that Northern Ireland should have special status within the EU and added, “What the British government are doing is treating us as collateral damage. They are very interested in the needs of the British people but not of the needs of the people here who voted to remain within the European Union.”

Totally unnecessary and provocative

Ulster Unionist Assembly member Steve Aiken welcomed the commitment to avoid customs posts while adding that “calls from Irish Republic and nationalist politicians for Irish unity as a response to Brexit are clearly totally unnecessary and provocative”.

“Instead, all Northern Ireland politicians should be concentrating on getting the Assembly back up and running and getting a voice for Northern Ireland at the table - Republic of Ireland politicians need to be concentrating on making sure that the EU makes the Brexit transition as smooth as possible,” he added.

The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described the position paper as a “spin document” that was “conflicting, chaotic and deficient”.

“This paper is a long way away from meeting the needs of people on this island. Far from recognising the need for a special dispensation to protect people in Northern Ireland, the British government seems to want the EU to bend over backwards to accommodate their ambitions but give very little in return,” he said.

Mr Eastwood added that there was an “easier answer to the Irish border question - the British government could give up its hard Brexit position and negotiate to remain a member of the European customs union”.

In denial

Alliance deputy leader and Brexit Spokesman Stephen Farry said the British government “was in denial on the Irish Border challenge”.

“Dismissing problems doesn’t make them go away, nor does passing the buck to others. Everyone may wish to avoid a hard border, but any difference in the customs and tariff regimes between the UK and the European Union would require both a heavy administrative burden and some form of physical checks,” he said.