Talk of ‘frictionless Border’ post-Brexit a fairy tale’, says Pascal Lamy

‘No border’ solution does not exist, says former WTO head and ex-EU trade commissioner

The idea that there will be a frictionless border between the Republic and Northern Ireland when Britain leaves the European Union (EU) is a "fairy tale", according to a former director general of the World Trade Organization.

Pascal Lamy, who is also a former EU trade commissioner, was the keynote speaker at AIB Treasury's Trade Through Brexit – The Inside Track event in Dublin on Friday.

“No border is simply impossible,” he said. “Borders are necessary to check, and police. There is no ‘no border’ solution.”

Mr Lamy said talk about “frictionless, invisible borders with no infrastructure” was “fairy-tale poetry”.


“This is not poetry,” he said. “This is business, and we have to be realistic.”

In terms of solutions on the Border, he said: “There is no good solution. We have to choose the least disruptive solution.

“I think putting a Border between North and South is not the least disruptive. I think putting a border around the island with the UK is probably less disruptive.

“It would be a bit complex with the parliamentary situation in London today, but we have to look for some sort of special status.”

Mr Lamy added that the issues surrounding Brexit were “a British problem”.

“It is not as if we, on the continent, have an Irish problem with Brexit,” he said. “The reality is that we in the EU – Ireland and the continent together – have a desire to limit the damage of the consequences of the British problem in Europe.”

Gerard Lyons, a former chief economic adviser to Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London, spoke in defence of the UK.

“Nobody can leave something they have been in for four decades easily,” he said. “It is an economic shock.”

Mr Lyons said he expected the DUP to have a say on the negotiations and the fate of the Border. “I’m not a member of the government but I would imagine the DUP’s view on this is going to be important,” he said.

Messy break

Mr Lyons also criticised EU trade deals as “penny deals” but added that a “messy break” would be an event whereby Britain tried to “undermine the core factors that keep the EU together”.

“I would say Brexit is a ‘win-win’ solution for both the UK and the EU if this works out properly,” he said.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney said there would be "no 'no border' solution" if the UK maintains its current approach.

“We don’t want to create separation between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain,” he said.

“That is why the Irish Government’s position has consistently been that we want Britain as a whole to look at solutions that avoid the need for hard borders. We have an interwoven relationship with Britain that is impossible to undo. There is no clean break.”

Mr Coveney added that the Republic would not seek to use Brexit as a vehicle to achieve a united Ireland. “Brexit is a separate issue and it should be treated separately,” he said.

Former European Commission secretary general Catherine Day said support for Ireland was "very strong" in Europe.

“The sympathy is genuine,” she said. “I believe the commission can find the technical solutions. But this is going to be about Tory politics, and whether they will be compatible.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter