Kenny and May agree no return to hard border after Brexit

Taoiseach and UK prime minister want ‘creative and imaginative’ ways to deal with customs checks

British Prime Minister Theresa May visits Northern Ireland in a bid to allay fears about the impact of the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union may have on the peace process. Video: Reuters

 

The Taoiseach and the British prime minister have agreed there will be no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

They have also agreed to find “creative and imaginative” ways to deal with customs checks.

Speaking after a 75-minute meeting at 10 Downing Street with Theresa May, the Taoiseach said they agreed a joint approach to the future of the Border after Britain leaves the EU.

“A hard border in normal circumstances means customs posts and customs checks in various places. There will be no return to the hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland of the past, which included towers and military equipment, obviously for different reasons. So I do not favour, I do not agree to a hard border, with a whole range of customs posts, and neither does the prime minister.”

Mr Kenny was the first EU leader to visit Mrs May at Downing Street since she became prime minister, a fact she described as testament to the importance of the relationship between Britain and Ireland.

The prime minister said she was committed to maintaining the strong economic relationship between the two countries, to safeguarding the Northern Ireland peace process, and to preserving the benefits of the Common Travel Area. “There is a strong will on both sides to preserve it and so we must now focus on securing a deal that is in the interest of both of us.

“And alongside this, we should continue our efforts to strengthen the external borders of the common travel area, for example through a common approach to the use of passenger data.”

Last March, the Minster for Justice Frances Fitzgerald signed a statutory instrument which obliges airlines and ferry companies operating between Ireland and the UK to submit passenger data, including flight or sailing arrangements as well as passport details, to authorities in both countries.

When Britain leaves the EU, it will almost certainly leave the EU customs union, even if it remains within the European single market under an arrangement similar to Norway’s. Membership of different customs unions would, in theory, necessitate customs checks on goods crossing the Border between both parts of Ireland.

The Taoiseach suggested on Tuesday, however, that such checks should not require physical border posts along the Border. “There are other ways of dealing with modern technology in terms of checking trade,” he said. “I think these are things that need to be looked at creatively and imaginatively but we are both agreed very firmly that there will be no return to a hard border as it used to be.”

Electronic pre-clearance customs systems operate on a number of international borders, including those between some Baltic states and Russia and between the US and Canada, minimising delays at border crossings and reducing the need for physical border checks.