Reuters – “Britain seeks Brexit without borders for Northern Ireland”

By William James and Conor Humphries, Reuters:

Some 30,000 people cross the 500-km (300-mile) border every day without customs or immigration controls; negotiators must work out new arrangements without inflaming tensions in a region that suffered decades of bloody turmoil before a peace deal in 1998.

As part of a series of papers that Prime Minister Theresa May hopes will push forward talks with the EU, the government on Tuesday outlined its vision for a “frictionless” customs system, which one EU politician described as ‘fantasy’.

Wednesday’s publication drew heavily on those proposals as a solution for Northern Ireland that would not involve “physical border infrastructure and border posts”, or electronic surveillance. Reaching agreement with the EU on this was top of Britain’s list of Brexit priorities, the government said.

The aim is “to find a practical solution that recognizes the unique economic, social and cultural context of the land border with Ireland, without creating any new obstacles to trade within the UK,” Northern Ireland minister James Brokenshire said.

May also said Britain would consider stepping in to replace some EU funding for peace projects in Northern Ireland after it leaves the bloc in March 2019, to prevent a resurgence of violence between pro-British Protestants and Catholic Irish nationalists.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney welcomed the proposals, saying Britain had acknowledged for the first time that it would not be practical to depend on technological solutions to monitor the border.

“Of course what we don’t have, though, is the detail as to how it’s going to work,” he said.

But Senator Mark Daly, deputy leader of Ireland’s opposition Fianna Fáil party, said the proposals for a frictionless border appeared “more like fiction, and clueless on this island”.

“It will be a smugglers’ charter,” he told BBC Radio Four.

Northern Ireland sold 2.7 billion pounds ($3.5 billion) of goods into Ireland in 2015, according to official figures, and many businesses have complex supply chains that involve crossing the border multiple times during the production process.

The Sinn Fein party, which wants a referendum on ending British rule in Northern Ireland and uniting the island under the Irish flag, said it doubted an open border could be delivered.

“They have not put anything concrete on the table . ….we are a fleeting concern to the British government, collateral damage in the Brexit negotiations,” said Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland.

Britain said it wanted to maintain the Common Travel Area (CTA), a pact that allows free movement between the United Kingdom and Ireland for British and Irish citizens, with no need for passport controls and “no question of new immigration checks operating between Northern Ireland and Ireland”.

That would mean EU citizens wishing to enter Britain could do so by traveling legitimately to Ireland and crossing the border unchecked – something that is likely to antagonize the many Britons for whom controlling immigration was a key reason for backing Brexit.

“If you don’t have any of these checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – the UK-EU border – and you don’t have any between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, well then, where do you check immigration?” Conor McGinn, a spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, told Sky News.

“It seems to me that the government has handed back control of its border to the EU.”

The government said control over migration from the EU into Britain could be exercised by restrictions on access to the British social security system and labor market. Further details would be set out in a future document on immigration.

Britain also wants to introduce new ‘trusted trader’ arrangements to help larger companies and make smaller firms exempt from customs processes.

It rejected the idea of an effective customs border in the Irish Sea that separates England, Wales and Scotland from Ireland and Northern Ireland as “not constitutionally or economically viable”.


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The New York Times – “U.K. Sets Out Goals for an Open Irish Border. Trade Is More Complex.”

LONDON — The militarized checkpoints that once stood along the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland became flash points for sectarian violence during the Troubles, and no one wants to see their return after Britain quits the European Union in 2019.

But a document released by the British government on Wednesday on how to preserve the open border there has underscored the sprawling complexity of Britain’s planned departure from the bloc, known as Brexit.

Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom, while Ireland has been an independent nation since 1921. Both are members of the European Union — a shared status that has helped London and Dublin put aside historical differences and develop such a close relationship that border controls have disappeared. Travelers generally do not even know when they have passed from one country to the other.

After Brexit, however, the roughly 300-mile frontier with Ireland will be the United Kingdom’s only land border with a bloc whose economic arrangements, including its customs union and single market, it plans to leave. That creates a host of problems.

The customs union allows members to trade freely among themselves while charging a single tariff on some goods from nonmembers. When Britain leaves the bloc, goods crossing the border from Britain into Ireland could be subject to varying tariffs, unless the British adopt the same tariffs as the European Union or strike a special deal with it. Policing those varying tariffs could be burdensome.

The same principle holds for the single market. It is maintained through a complex and detailed set of standards that Britain would either have to abide by or face the logistical nightmare of checking goods entering the European Union from its territory.

Adopting the same tariffs and standards as the European Union would clear up a lot of problems, but would undermine the supposed purpose of Brexit in the first place, which is to re-establish control over immigration and national sovereignty. It would also complicate, or perhaps even preclude, forging trade deals with countries like the United States, another major goal of Brexit.

The document published on Wednesday represents the first, if somewhat vague, attempt to deal with these problems as they affect the Irish frontier. It rules out the reintroduction of physical infrastructure such as customs posts, and there appear to be no plans to use security cameras or license plate recognition technology at or around the border.

Immigration would not be policed at the Irish frontier, nor would there be passport checks on people entering mainland Britain from Northern Ireland.

That would seem to raise the possibility that European Union citizens could enter Britain indirectly through Ireland, perhaps undermining control over immigration. But the document hints that European citizens would probably be allowed to enter Britain freely and directly from Europe even after Brexit, though they might face some restrictions on their right to work or to claim welfare payments as people from outside the European Union do today.

The bigger problem is trade. The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, warned last month that “frictionless trade” would not be possible if the United Kingdom left the bloc’s economic arrangements.

Wednesday’s document calls on the European Union to agree to a series of waivers for small businesses and farmers, to avoid the need for them to complete customs formalities.

But that is only part of the problem. Even if that were agreed, larger companies would surely face higher costs. The British government is hazy on this point, talking about setting up simplified customs procedures and applying technologies — so far unspecified — to track goods, reduce bureaucracy and prevent costly delays.

British officials say there is so far no estimate of the increased cost that some businesses would face. Stephen Martin, the director general of the Institute of Directors, a business lobby group, described the document as a “significant step forward,” while adding that it “throws up even more questions about how much flexibility and imagination will be needed to overcome some very fundamental challenges.”

John Bruton, a former Irish prime minister, said the document failed to address the need for tariffs to be collected by Ireland on some goods imported into the European Union. “Brexit is going to increase the cost of doing business,” he told the BBC.

Farmers may have to adapt, too. More than 10,000 pigs are exported from Ireland to Northern Ireland every week, while a quarter of all milk produced by dairies in Northern Ireland is exported to Ireland for processing.

To minimize disruptions to trade, the document suggests setting common regulatory standards on agricultural products traded between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Yet that could complicate London’s efforts to strike global trade deals with countries such as the United States, if they involve importing agricultural goods.

Ireland’s government gave the document a polite but cautious reception, with its foreign minister, Simon Coveney, welcoming the principles behind its approach. Yet he added, according to the Irish broadcaster RTE, “What we don’t have, though, is the detail as to how it’s going to work.”

Mark Daly, a senior member of Ireland’s opposition Fianna Fail party, was less diplomatic, describing the plan as “pie in the sky” and warning that the proposals amounted to a “smugglers’ charter.”

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Derry Journal – “‘We are not leaving our own nation state’”

DUP MP Gregory Campbell has said that there is not going to be any united Ireland in a response to a new report stating that groundwork should begin for a future referendum.

Mr Campbell made his views known following the publication of an official report on the Republic of Ireland entitled ‘Brexit and the Future of Ireland, Uniting Ireland & Its People in Peace and Prosperity’.

The report called for preparations to begin for a “pathway to achieve the peaceful reunification of Ireland.”

It also called for unionist fears to be addressed in preparation for a future referendum on Irish reunification.

Responding via his Facebook profile, Mr Campbell said: “The Republic has now set out its stall. I presume they would like responses.

“My response: We are British, we are not leaving our own Nation State precisely BECAUSE we are British.

“We would like good relations with your Country after we gain freedom from the bureaucratic EU which has cost our Nation hundreds of billions, but there is not going to be a United Ireland, either peacefully or any other way.

“Those good relations will operate much better if we all understand exactly where each other stands,” he added.

The Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement published the report, which was compiled by Senator Mark Daly, last week.

Its findings, based on detailed research and examinations of key reports, included input from former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, senior international politicians, expert European Professors and Counter Terrorism experts from the US

In light of its obligations under the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish Government has now been tasked to look at the legal and constitutional changes necessary before and after unification, and also to negotiate for the North to be designated special status EU and to have continued access to EU funds post Brexit.

The report states: “Brexit means that the best future for the citizens of Northern Ireland could well be remaining in the European Union in a reunified Ireland. This option must be explored.”

Sinn Féin MP, Elisha McCallion, has said the report launch “makes the case for the need for a Joint-Oireachtas Committee on Irish Unity much more compelling,” adding: “The establishment of such a committee would further research, develop and utilise the detail collated in this report and also help action and scrutinise government obligations on planning for unity within the context of both the Good Friday Agreement and the negative ramifications of Brexit.”

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood MLA also welcomed the report and repeated his call for nationalism across the island to advance the process of mapping Irish unity in a way that includes and respects all traditions. He said: “The SDLP continues to believe that Irish unification is the biggest and the best idea around. This report should now prompt a national discussion on unity, our constitutional and economic future that includes and respects all traditions on the island.”

“Irish nationalism needs to get down to the kind of work undertaken by Scottish nationalists in advance of their independence referendum.”

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BBC News: “Reality Check: Ireland’s border and Brexit”

BBC News:

The claim: There are more border crossings in Ireland than on the whole of the EU’s eastern border.

Reality Check verdict: This is true – there are 137 land border crossings to the east of the EU, compared with 275 between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Senator Mark Daly, deputy leader of Fianna Fail, was on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday, discussing the complexities of the Irish border.

“There are over 300 miles of border between the north and south of Ireland,” he said.

“And there are more border crossings on this island than there is between the European Union and all the countries to the east of it.”

It is hard to find a precise figure for the number of land border crossings in Ireland, because there is no definitive view of how major a track or path has to be before it counts as a border crossing.

A reasonable figure, though, comes from a website called, which has an interactive map showing the location of 275 crossings.

During the Troubles, only 20 of them were open.

What makes the border particularly tricky is that some roads cross the border several times, especially around Fermanagh.

This is in stark contrast to the eastern border of the EU. On the border between Poland and Ukraine, for example, looking at a map there are only 11 crossings on a 330-mile border and most of them are on major roads.

Information about the EU’s eastern border comes from Frontex, the European border and coastguard agency.

It measures the land border as being 6,000km (3,720 miles) long, covering the borders between EU member states and Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia.

It cannot give a figure for the number of roads crossing that border, but it sent a link to a list of borders in EU states. The list was prepared as part of the establishment of the Schengen passport-check-free zone that runs along much of the eastern border of the EU (although not all – Romania, for example, is an EU member but not part of Schengen).

So the Romanian borders are based on just counting from a map.

Frontex does not consider the borders with Turkey to be part of the eastern border, although if they were counted there are two land borders with Greece and four between Bulgaria and Turkey (those also counted on a map).

So that gives a total figure of 137 land border crossings, about half as many as there are in Ireland, despite being 12 times its length.

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“Donegal TDs react to the first report on the prospect of a united Ireland”

Donegal Now:

The Oireachtas has published its first report since the 1984 New Ireland Forum, on the achievement of a united Ireland.

“Brexit and the Future of Ireland: Uniting Ireland and its People in Peace and Prosperity” was published by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Good Friday Agreement.

According to its rapporteur, Senator Mark Daly, Fianna Fáil Seanad Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, the report detailed post-Brexit options for the island of Ireland.

Senator Daly added: “’Brexit and the Future of Ireland: Uniting Ireland and its People in Peace and Prosperity’ looked at the impact of Brexit on Ireland and what needed to happen in order to peacefully achieve a United Ireland.

Donegal TD, Charlie McConalogue (Fianna Fáil) reiterated Senator Daly’s comments.

He said: “There is significant support in Ireland in favour of a United Ireland, with some polls showing support in excess of 80 percent.

“’Brexit and the Future of Ireland: Uniting Ireland and its People in Peace and Prosperity’ is a step forward but it is only a start.

“We all need to do more to bring about a United Ireland through active consent. That process starts now.

Peaceful unification

“Of the 17 recommendations by the committee, one of the key ones is the need to establish a New Ireland Forum II, to set a pathway to achieve the peaceful unification of Ireland.

“This forum, in addition to hearing from those in favour of unity, must include Unionist voices and perspectives,” concluded Mr McConalogue.

Commenting on ‘Brexit and the Future of Ireland’, Gaeltacht Minister Joe McHugh (Fine Gael) said Brexit could not be allowed “to scupper” Peace Process gains.

He added: “As a Donegal man who is witnessing my own county moving into a new positive space, as a direct consequence of peace, I want to protect the gains.

“A border, any border outside of the existing arrangements is too big a price to pay.

“Whatever Brexit brings, the EU has a responsibility to future-proof the peace process and must be constantly reminded of its role and reminded that every person in

“Northern Ireland has a right under the Good Friday Agreement to Irish Citizenship, and therefore, EU citizenship.

“The peace process and free movement allows thousands of cross-Border journeys for work every day between Donegal and Derry.

“For example, more than 10 per cent of staff on Derry City & Strabane District Council lives in the Republic. It is vital that this continues. You cannot put a checkpoint up stopping this.

“Any slowdown in the movement of people and goods is unacceptable to citizens on both sides of the Border.

“The cancer care centre at Altnagelvin and the cardiac unit there now treat hundreds of patients from Donegal, many from Inishowen. More lives are being saved in ways we never expected as a result of the peace process.”

Donegal Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn (Sinn Féin) described the Oireachtas report as “a good start”.

He said: “The current debate around Brexit demonstrates again the folly of the border and the partition of this island.

“No where has suffered more from the effects of partition than Inishowen and the North West border region.

“Two economies, two taxation systems, two health systems, two education systems, developed on a small island of 6.5 million people, back to back, over the years, does not make sense.

“It is a duplication of vital resources and fails our people and our communities, particularly along the border.”

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