Ireland: a hard border between Britain and the EU in the Brexit negotiations
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
Britain has been handed an ultimatum in the Brexit talks. If it wants to continue the negotiations, Westminster will have to deliver a "realistic" solution to the Irish border.
Phase One of the Brexit talks was meant to settle the divorce bill, citizens' rights, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and the Irish hard border issue. Britain believes that it has moved on, and wants to get Phase Two underway. It is eager to discuss a future trade relationship, but the Ireland problem is holding it back.
Britian is now in Brexit limbo. Donald Tusk, the European Commission president, said that the negotiations on other issues will not progress until the Ireland question has been dealt with.
Speaking in Dublin with the Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Mr Tusk said: “We know today that the UK Government rejects a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea, the EU single market, and the customs union.
“While we must respect this position, we also expect the UK to propose a specific and realistic solution to avoid a hard border.
“As long as the UK doesn’t present such a solution, it is very difficult to imagine substantive progress in Brexit negotiations."
He added: “If in London someone assumes that the negotiations will deal with other issues first before the Irish issue, my response would be: Ireland first.”
Theresa May and the government have made a miscalculation in these negotiations over Ireland. Firstly, their position is "fundamentally inconsistent" - Britain wants to leave the single market, customs union, and jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, but EU laws and World Trade Organisation rules mean that border checks are unavoidable, according to the Irish Times.
Secondly, they have been complacent. After being the 'bigger player' in a bilateral relationship with their neighbours, the shoe is on the other foot. Little Britain cannot brush aside Irish protests in a patronising manner when the Emerald Isle is part of the larger European Union. Britain is now the smaller party in a bilateral negotiation.
Westminster has still not detailed plans to resolve the Irish border issue. Brussels has suggested a "backstop" option if it is not resolved by the time Britain leaves the EU in March 2019: Northern Ireland could stay in the EU customs union under the authority of the European Court of Justice. It would keep them in a "common regulatory area", a bespoke system for customs, goods, agriculture, environment, VAT, state aid and energy market rules. Theresa May rejected this option immediately, arguing that "no UK prime minster could ever agree to it".
There are 10 days until the European Council meets to review the state of the Brexit negotiations. Over a year into the talks, prevention of a hard border in Ireland has still not been resolved. Britain is keen to move on, although they haven't plotted their journey. The EU want to stop before taking another step.