British government stands over plan for ‘light touch’ Border

Sinn Féin and SDLP describe Brexit proposals as ‘unworkable’ and ‘back-of-envelope’

Leaked proposals from Theresa May’s government about plans for the Irish border under Brexit are ‘almost laughable’, says the SDLP. Photograph: Lauren Hurley/PA Wire

Leaked proposals from Theresa May’s government about plans for the Irish border under Brexit are ‘almost laughable’, says the SDLP. Photograph: Lauren Hurley/PA Wire

 

The British government has repeated that it is seeking to avoid a hard border with the Republic, ahead of the publication on Tuesday of the first of a series of Brexit position papers.

Three Brexit position papers are due to be released this week with a special paper coming out on Wednesday that addresses how customs arrangements between the Republic and Northern Ireland might work.

In advance of a paper to be published on Tuesday on future trade with the EU, the UK department for exiting the union insisted it is aiming for what British sources have described as a “light touch” border.

“The UK’s goal is to secure as frictionless trade as possible with the EU alongside the ability to forge trade deals around the world, and avoiding a hard border with Ireland,” it stated.

It added that Wednesday’s position paper on North-South arrangements would “make clear the commitment to maintain a seamless and frictionless border with no return to the hard borders of the past”.

That paper, according to informed sources, would make clear that a customs Border between the North and the South would be required after Brexit.

The position paper, the sources added, would include proposals to make the impact of a customs border as limited as possible. This, they said, would involve proposals such as spot checks of vehicles, the use of number plate recognition technology, and CCTV cameras monitoring the movement of goods crossing the Border.

Sinn Féin and the SDLP however accused the British government of devising “unworkable” and “back of an envelope” proposals for Brexit.

Belfast Agreement

Sinn Féin Brexit spokesman David Cullinane said that the proposals for a customs border on the island of Ireland were unworkable, bad for the economy, and not compatible with the Belfast Agreement.

“It is clear that the British Tory party are in disarray over Brexit. They have no plan, no solutions for Brexit, only slogans,” said the Sinn Féin TD.

“The latest leak and briefings demonstrate that they are prepared to impose an EU frontier across Ireland and are prepared to play fast and loose with our economy and peace agreements,” he added.

“This is a non-runner. The notion of a frictionless technological border has been dismissed as nonsense and impossible to deliver,” said Mr Cullinane.

“What is clear is that Tories are prepared to use Ireland as collateral damage in their negotiations with the EU.

Mr Cullinane said the Government must stand up for the “interests of all those on the island of Ireland and argue for designated special status for the North within the EU”.

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood also was dismissive of some of the expected content of the paper. “Advance leaks indicate that Theresa May’s government intends to stubbornly stick by its hard Brexit position of leaving the customs union and the single market, threatening a hard border in Ireland,” he said on Sunday.

“Back of the envelope proposals on ‘very advanced CCTV cameras’ at the border don’t even enter into the realm of a serious suggestion or a credible solution,” added Mr Eastwood.

‘Non-runner’

“It is almost laughable that it took the British government over a year to come up with it. Anyone who knows anything about the Irish border knows it’s a non-runner,” he said.

“Any border must be around the island of Ireland, not across it,” added Mr Eastwood. “This is the only position which recognises our unique circumstances and it is the only position which is actually enforceable. It is the only serious and credible solution to the Brexit problem which has so far been proposed.”

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist Party Leader Robin Swann warned Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that he must steer away from pushing for a border “in the Irish Sea”.

“Brexit negotiations should not be used as a Trojan Horse by those who seek to exploit the situation to further their united Ireland agenda. Those who have shouted loudest about protecting the Belfast Agreement have seemingly been quick to forget the principle of consent when they think they are close to getting their way,” he added.

“Northern Ireland’s right to self-determination must be respected throughout these negotiations and beyond,” said Mr Swann.

“The futile pursuit of a border in the Irish Sea must be abandoned and minds must be focussed on finding solutions that work for everyone - a commitment that seems to have been forgotten in recent weeks,” added the UUP leader.