Brexit: Ireland warns Britain over hard border with North | News | DW | 26.11.2017
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Brexit: Ireland warns Britain over hard border with North

After decades of strife and violence, the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, part of the UK, was finally nixed in 1998. The process of Brexit may put that in jeopardy.

Tensions were heating up between the Irish and British governments on Sunday, with Dublin warning that London's proposed Brexit plans could lead to a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Such an arrangement, it is feared, could threaten decades of arduous work to establish a relative peace in Northern Ireland.

Read more: Brexit: EU cancels British bids for European Capital of Culture 2023

Speaking to UK Sunday newspaper The Observer, Irish EU Commissioner Phil Hogan warned that Ireland would "continue to play tough to the end" over the border, and advised British Prime Minister Theresa May to try to remain in the European single market and customs union rather than seek a separate free trade agreement (FTA).

"I continue to be amazed at the blind faith that some in London place in theoretical future fair trade agreements," Hogan said, accusing May's government of not considering the cost of cross-border business to both Ireland and the UK.

"The best possible FTA with the EU will fall far short of the benefits of being in a single market," he added.

British minister demands trade talks first

Responding to comments coming from Dublin and Brussels, Britain's International Trade Minister Liam Fox said the UK would not resolve the Irish border issue until it has agreed on a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU. 

Fox told broadcaster Sky News that it would be impossible to discuss the border while the UK's future relationship with the bloc remains unclear

"We don't want there to be a hard border but the United Kingdom is going to be leaving the customs union and the single market," he said. "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 European Union on the end state that will be very difficult."

EU ministers are set discuss whether to open up Brexit negotiations to trade talks when they meet at their next summit on December 14 and 15. 

Watch video 02:46

Road to Brexit: Northern Ireland border area

'An accident waiting to happen'

Dublin has demanded promises from London that there will be no hard border with the North, and they firmly believe that remaining in the single market is the only way to guarantee that.

The Observer reported that, at the same time, the UK's former ambassador to the EU had called May's Brexit strategy "an accident waiting to happen," as there is not much time to renegotiate the 59 trade deals Britain has through the EU.

"When it comes to trying to negotiate new FTAs with the rest of the world, Britain will be pushed around the way the EU – with currently more than eight times the UK population – will never be," said Ivan Rogers.

The political situation in Ireland is already tenuous ahead of an important December EU summit on Britain's exit from the bloc. A recent vote of no confidence in Deputy Prime Minister Frances Fitzgerald means that the republic could be heading for fresh elections in the coming weeks as the country's minority government crumbles.

Fresh elections would leave Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in an extremely weak position during the summit, increasing the threat of a hard border with Northern Ireland.

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