Britain urged Ireland to reduce emphasis on NI peace in Brexit talks

Request came as Theresa May felt her credentials on the issue were not taken seriously

Theresa May was said to be hurt and concerned her credentials as a guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement were not being taken seriously. Photograph:  Sebastien Courdji/Pool via Reuters

Theresa May was said to be hurt and concerned her credentials as a guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement were not being taken seriously. Photograph: Sebastien Courdji/Pool via Reuters

 

The British government asked Ireland to ease off on its emphasis on peace in Northern Ireland as one of the main issues at stakes in the Brexit talks.

The request, from representatives of the UK administration, was made in recent months because British prime minister Theresa May was said to be hurt and concerned her credentials as a guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement were not being taken seriously, sources disclosed.

However, Dublin did not accede to the call because of a view that the peace process should remain central to the Brexit negotiations.

The revelation comes as Mrs May steps up preparations for the UK leaving the bloc without a deal. She is reported to have instructed her officials to make contingencies in such a scenario to ensure the Border is free of customs checks and police.

It is understood the request came in meetings between figures from the Irish and UK governments as Mrs May was preparing to secure the backing of her Cabinet for her vision of a future relationship with the European Union after Brexit.

Preferred relationship

The UK government published its white paper on its preferred future relationship last month, which set out a common customs area between the EU and UK, as well as Britain remaining aligned to the European single market for goods.

However, its key measures have been met with opposition from the EU. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has also said that the integrity of the EU single market – and the accompanying commitment to the free movement of goods, services, people and capital – must be respected.

On the message from the British government on the emphasis on peace and the Irish border, a source said: “Successive Irish and British governments have protected a hard-won peace in Northern Ireland and we need to make sure that continues, regardless of Brexit.” This includes a need for no hard Border.

Another Dublin figure said the UK government felt that the peace process and Irish Border were being seen as mostly of concern to “nationalists, Dublin and the EU”, but were equally a concern of unionists and Mrs May’s minority Conservative administration, which has a confidence and supply agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Stepping up preparations

In a letter to members of the Conservative Party in recent days, Mrs May said she “remained clear that no deal is better than a bad deal – and we are stepping up our ‘no deal’ preparations”.

Among her commitments, Mrs May said: “There will be no hard Border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We will remain one United Kingdom with a single internal market.”

She said the two options on offer from the EU – a “standard” free trade agreement “with Northern Ireland staying in the customs union and parts of the single market” or UK membership of the customs union and single market – are “unacceptable”.

The wording of the so-called “backstop” arrangement – which would guarantee no hard border even in a no deal Brexit scenario – is one the main sticking points in EU-UK talks, which Mrs May said have reached an “impasse”.

The EU has said that without a backstop, there can be no withdrawal agreement – threatening a “no-deal” Brexit where the UK crashes out of the EU next March.