Brexit: Hogan calls on May to change course on North Border

European commissioner says Brexit impasse can be solved by UK staying in single market, customs union

Britain will not resolve the question of the Irish border after Brexit until it has also agreed the outline of a trade deal with the European Union, the country's International Trade Minister Liam Fox said on Sunday (November 26).


Ireland’s European commissioner, Phil Hogan, has called on British prime minister Theresa May to change course on Northern Irish Border after Brexit.

Mr Hogan said the problems around the Border — one of the key obstacles blocking talks on a UK-EU trade deal after the country leaves the EU — could be solved by remaining in the customs union and single market, or allowing Northern Ireland to do so.

Mr Hogan, the EU’s agriculture commissioner, said it was a “very simple fact” that “if the UK or Northern Ireland remained in the EU customs union, or better still the single market, there would be no border issue”.

Criticising the British government’s approach to Brexit he told the Observer: “I continue to be amazed at the blind faith that some in London place in theoretical future free trade agreements.

“First, the best possible FTA with the EU will fall far short of being in the single market. This fact is simply not understood in the UK.

“Most real costs to cross-border business today are not tariffs - they are about standards, about customs procedures, about red tape. These are solved in the single market, but not in an FTA,” he said.

However, speaking on Sunday, Britain’s international trade secretary, Liam Fox, said a final answer on the future of Ireland would only come when the shape of the trade deal between the EU and the United Kingdom was clear.

“We’ve made very clear what the outline is of our interests, that we don’t want there to be a hard border but the UK is going to be leaving the customs union and the single market. We’ve always actually had exceptions for Ireland whether it’s in our voting rights, our rights of residence in the UK,” he told Sky News’ Sunday with Niall Paterson.

“We’ve always accepted a certain asymmetry and that will have to be part of whatever agreement we come to with the EU, but we can’t get a final answer to the Irish question until we get an idea of the end state and until we get into discussions with the EU on the end state that will be very difficult,” Mr Fox said.

“So the quicker we can do that the better, and we’re still in the position where the EU doesn’t want to do that, and we’re getting quite close now to 2018 when we’ll be talking about next year when we leave the EU.

“So for all the reasosn international as well as European I think we have to get there faster than we’re doing at the present time,” he said.

Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell said he was worried about Mr Fox’s comments.

“I think the one thing that we don’t want to do is jeopardise any movement quickly because we need movement to get us into the proper trade negotiations. So I’m hoping that isn’t a Downing Street-sanctioned statement that he’s made.”

Ms May’s DUP allies have issued a warning that they would not tolerate any attempt to put barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom after Brexit.

Ms May has been given until December 4th to come up with further proposals on issues including the Border, the Brexit divorce bill and citizens’ rights if European leaders are to give the green light to moving on to the next phase of negotiations covering the future relationship between the UK and Brussels.

The British prime minister has ruled out remaining in the single market and customs union and any arrangement which appeared to give Northern Ireland a separate status would be strongly resisted by the DUP, whose 10 MPs are effectively keeping Mrs May in Downing Street after she lost her majority in the general election.

DUP leader Arlene Foster told her party conference on Saturday: “We will not support any arrangements that create barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom or any suggestion that Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK, will have to mirror European regulations.”

Elsewhere, it has emerged the United Kingdom could be required to follow new rules implemented by the EU during a Brexit transition period.

The position set out by EU negotiator Michel Barnier in leaked documents would make the application of new EU rules a condition of a transitional deal, meaning Britain could be subject to further regulations from Brussels for about two years after leaving the bloc.

Mrs May hopes to secure an implementation period between the United Kingdom’s formal exit date and the commencement of any post-Brexit trade deal in order to give businesses time to adjust to the new arrangements, but accepting the imposition of new rules could trigger a revolt by Eurosceptics.

It would also go against the approach to an implementation period set out by the Ms May in her Florence speech, where she said the “framework for this strictly time-limited period . . . would be the existing structure of EU rules and regulations”.–PA