British Chancellor rejects plan to move border into Irish Sea

The Irish Government has again insisted that “the border issue is a political, not a technical matter”

British Chancellor rejects plan to move border into Irish Sea

File photo of a mock customs post set up by anti-Brexit campaigners at Ravensdale, Co Louth. 18-02-17. Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

Officials in Britain are claiming that the Minister for Foreign Affairs’ statements on the Irish border represent a change in policy from the Irish government.

Minister Simon Coveney has called on the EU to move the country's border into the Irish Sea.

Following the completion of the latest round of negotiations between the UK and EU in Brussels last week, Minister Coveney said Ireland “cannot and will not” accept the return of a hard border in Ireland.

He rejected the idea that the problem could be solved through the use of technology, including surveillance cameras, to allow free movement between the north and south of the island – an idea supported by Westminster.

“What we do not want to pretend is that we can solve the problems of the border on the island of Ireland through technical solutions like cameras and pre-registration and so on,” he said. “That is not going to work.”

“Any barrier or border on the island of Ireland in my view risks undermining a very hard-won peace process and all of the parties in Northern Ireland, whether they are unionist or nationalist, recognise that we want to keep the free movement of people and goods and services and livelihoods.”

Irish policy

According to reports in The Times Ireland Edition this morning, Whitehall sources have taken the comments as a sign that the Irish Government’s “attitude has hardened” following Leo Varadkar’s confirmation as Taoiseach.

However, the Irish government’s Position Paper on Brexit - published in May - pledged to ensure the Good Friday Agreement is “fully respected and protected” and made clear that the government’s priority is that there be “no visible, ‘hard’ border on the island of Ireland.”

The paper said the issue will require “a political and not just a technical solution” and noted that both the British and Irish governments had indicated their intention to maintain the Common Travel Area (CTA).

Hard border

This afternoon the British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond said placing the border in the Irish Sea is unacceptable:

“The answer [...] cannot be to create a border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain,” he said.

“That would not be something that was acceptable to us or to the people of Northern Ireland.”

Members of the DUP have also come out strongly against the idea calling it “absurd and unconstitutional.”

Brexit delay

What the alternative might be remains unclear, amid reports yesterday that the EUs chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier is increasingly concerned that Britain has failed to put forward any position on many key issues up for discussion.

Meanwhile, an EU official told the Reuters news agency that there had been no detailed talks on the Irish border as yet.

Mr Barnier is reportedly concerned that talks on the future relationship between the EU and UK will have to be delayed due to the slow progress of negotiations thus far.

Political issue

In a statement this morning, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Irish Government has consistently said that “the border issue is a political, not a technical matter” that will require “flexible and imaginative solutions.”

“The risks of a hard border are not solely economic or trade related,” reads the statement.

“It is also about communities and society and there are many factors that will have to be considered. “

“Ireland’s unique concerns and priorities for the Brexit negotiations have been strongly acknowledged by both the UK and our EU partners. 

“The objectives of protecting the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and the gains of the peace process, including avoiding a hard border, are shared by all sides.”

Further talks are scheduled for late August.

With additional reporting from Gavan Reilly ...