Stef Blok, the Dutch minister for foreign affairs, has insisted there will have to be Border controls between Ireland and Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Speaking ahead of a State visit to Ireland next month by King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, Mr Blok said the Dutch “stand with the Irish” but that “European borders have to be protected”.
Mr Blok said he had visited the Border and spoken to people who live there, and was aware of their fears over a potential return to violence if infrastructure is erected.
However, he reiterated his expectation that there would need to be Border controls if the UK exits the European Union without a deal.
“I cannot pretend that if there is a no-deal Brexit, we wouldn’t be in need of Border controls,” he said, in response to a question over whether peace should not be prioritised over economic market protection.
“We have to be sure that goods entering the EU at whatever border are controlled there on their conformity with EU rules,” he said.
Mr Blok said Brexit is “an enormous challenge we both face” and the Dutch position is to avoid a No Deal Brexit.
“We stand with the Irish. We understand your position is even more complicated because of the Northern Ireland conflict,” he said.
“But in Europe, we must be sure that products that are imported and traded here fulfil our common European criteria. If we trade with countries - and this might be the case in the future with UK - that have other safety standards, then it must be possible to make a distinction between these goods and others.”
When asked about the possibility of technical solutions to avoid hard Border infrastructure, he replied: “If there might be technical solutions, who could be against it? It is above my knowledge. [But if future UK product regulations] are lighter than we like in EU, there should be border controls.”
When asked if checks would have to be located on the dividing line between the Republic and the North, he replied that the controls would “have to be effective” wherever they were.
“We have to see who will be the next UK prime minister. The Dutch position is to avoid a no-deal Brexit. We fully agree with the Irish government and the EU that the withdrawal agreement is as it is.”
Mr Blok suggested that Ireland and the Netherlands should work together on common issues such as a EU taxation and the proposal for a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base, to which both the Dutch and Irish are opposed.
“Regarding future EU rules on taxation, it is a unanimity issue, and it is important Netherlands and Ireland work together here. We are not alone on this.”