Today sees Ireland take centre stage in the Brexit negotiations. The border, along with the UK’s divorce bill and the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, are the three headline areas where significant progress must be made before negotiations move towards a free trade agreement.
Although Brexit Secretary David Davis has headed back to London, after spending less than an hour in Brussels yesterday, senior officials from the UK and the EU will present their position papers on the what appears to be an increasingly intractable issue. Indeed, Simon Coveney has poured cold water on the notion that technology alone will allow for the operation of a ‘frictionless’ border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland following Brexit.
“What we do not want to do is pretend we can solve the problems of the border on the island of Ireland through technical solutions like cameras and pre-registration and so on. That is not going to work.”
On BBC Good Morning Ulster earlier, Fine Gael Senator Neale Richmond, a colleague of Coveney, seemed to suggest that the Irish Government’s favoured approach would involve moving customs controls to seaports and airports, an arrangement that would be politically toxic to unionists.
Until now, politicians in London in particular have delivered empty platitudes in relation to Ireland such as ‘no return to the borders of the past’, without ever offering anything resembling a solution, other than that which Coveney has now dismissed as unworkable. Indeed, at Prime Ministers Questions last Wednesday, Emily Thornberry, standing in for Jeremy Corbyn, challenged First Secretary of State Damien Green on the impact of no Brexit deal on Ireland, something which the Tories have been threatening. Remember ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’? No deal would would most certainly lead to imposition of a hard border on the island of Ireland, so Thornberry pushing Green on this certainly exposed the contradictions inherent in the UK Government’s position on the border.
Michael Creed TD, Fine Gael’s Agriculture Minister, vented his frustrations yesterday about the conflicting positions of various UK Government ministers in a range of areas affected by Brexit that are of particular interest to Ireland.
“There is no political coherence there. There is no leadership on Brexit. Various ministers talk about hard Brexit, soft Brexit, no deal being better than a bad deal. The worst possible deal is no deal, both for them and for us. The lack of any coherence is a huge problem for us and until they get their act together, what we are trying to do… It appears to me that the instability is spilling over, impacting on the kind of Brexit. There is no coherence.”
Today’s meeting, which focuses on the border and doesn’t cover all of the areas Creed is alluding to is a behind closed doors affair; however, following today, we may begin to get an idea of what solutions are being proposed to ensure that the integrity of current border arrangements are not undermined in what is certainly the most complex of the three issues at the top of the negotiators’ agenda.