Taoiseach warns of ‘very negative consequences’ of hard Border

Enda Kenny has meeting with Theresa May on margins of informal EU summit in Malta

British prime minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the informal European Union summit  in Valletta, Malta, on Friday. Photograph: Yves Herman/EPA

British prime minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the informal European Union summit in Valletta, Malta, on Friday. Photograph: Yves Herman/EPA

 

The Taoiseach has expressed confidence that the Common Travel Area between Britain and Ireland will survive unchanged after Brexit but warned of “very negative consequences” if there was a return to a hard Border with Northern Ireland. Mr Kenny spoke with British prime minister Theresa May in the margins of an informal European Union summit in Malta, a conversation he said had built on their “frank and constructive” meeting in Dublin this week.

“The Common Travel Area between Ireland and Britain and the Republic and Northern Ireland has been there since 1922. We do not see any change in that. It’s not just a travel arrangement, it’s also a residency and labour arrangement,” he said.

“And certainly we have committed to no return to a hard Border, and I really mean this. This is a really serious issue for us and for Britain. I did point out before that any semblance of a return to a hard Border would have very negative consequences and the British government fully understand that and the prime minister understands that. I made it crystal clear and plain that that’s a real issue.”

Customs controls

Britain’s decision to leave the EU customs union after Brexit has made customs controls on the Border all but inevitable because the EU would oblige Ireland to police its external customs border. An expert in EU customs law this week told a House of Commons committee that there would be no way of avoiding customs controls and expensive formalities, dismissing Ms May’s talk of a “seamless and frictionless” Border as “nice talk”.

The Taoiseach said most EU leaders recognised the special difficulties Brexit poses for Ireland. He said he had pointed out to his counterparts in the European Council that Ireland was already in a unique situation in the EU.

“We’re the only country with a peace process that is supported by an international and legally binding agreement and by the European Union. When the United Kingdom leaves, we will be the only country with a land border within the European Union. So we’ve got these very particular circumstances, we’ve got this special case that’s already in situ, and it’s quite unique. So I think most of the leaders around the council table fully understand that. If you ask the Europeans, they do know that there is one peace process within the European Union and that’s related to Ireland,” he said.

Irish officials have held a number of meetings with the European Commission’s Brexit task force to discuss issues such as the Common Travel Area and the customs union. Officials on both sides say there is a broad acceptance among other EU member states that the legacy of the Belfast Agreement should not be undermined by Brexit.

After Brexit, the European Commission could have a role in policing the way Ireland implements the Common Travel Area to ensure that it complies with EU rules. But Mr Kenny said he did not expect Britain’s departure from the EU to lead to any changes that would require a referendum in Ireland because there would be no transfer of sovereignty to the EU.

“In Ireland, with a written constitution, if a transfer of sovereignty from the country to the European Union were contemplated or is envisaged it’s the determination of the day as to whether a referendum should be held or not. I don’t see that. I don’t expect that there would be a transfer of any sovereignty powers to the European Union arising from Brexit,” he said.