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UK seeks 'frictionless' border for N. Ireland

August 16, 2017

London has pledged to avoid border posts between the EU-member Republic of Ireland and the UK country of Northern Ireland after Brexit. Questions still remain as to how Britain plans to police the "frictionless" border.

Cars cross the controless border between Ireland and Northern Ireland
Ireland welcomed the British government's position, but says more details are neededImage: Getty Images/AFP/P. Faith

In a government document paper published on Wednesday, the British government said it wanted a seamless and "frictionless" frontier between Ireland and Northern Ireland without either a physical border or border checks.

"There should be no physical border infrastructure of any kind on either side of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland," Prime Minister Theresa May said.

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

The paper, which is part of a series detailing Britain's stance on key Brexit issues, included an interim period after Brexit to allow a transition to the new border set-up. 

Read more: UK ministers to release Brexit position papers amid criticism

Ireland's foreign minister welcomed Britain's efforts to maintain a seamless border on Wednesday, but said that more details were needed on how they plan to execute their plan.

Farmers fear Brexit

"The vast majority of those principles I think reflect the kind of language that we have been using... and so therefore is welcome," Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told reporters. "Of course what we don't have though is the detail as to how it's going to work."

Some 30,000 people cross the 500 kilometer (310 miles) border every day between EU member the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the UK country, without customs or immigration checks.

Free movement of people among member states is a key EU principle, one that Brussels has said will be required in order for the UK to enter the bloc's single market. Many in the UK who voted to leave the EU last year cited a desire to regain control of immigration as one of their main reasons.

This infographic shows a timeline of the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union, beginning with its vote to leave the EU on June 23, 2016. It plans to leave the bloc by March 2019

UK to seek special customs deal

According to the paper, the UK is also hoping to minimize the strain on business and consumers when it leaves the EU in March 2019, and wants to secure the freest possible trade deal.

The idea is to create a "time-limited" customs union while all the other necessary changes fall into place, in order to provide certainly for companies and investors.

"Ministers will announce an intention to seek an 'interim' period with the EU of close association with the customs union that would allow for a smooth and orderly transfer to the new regime," said a government statement ahead of the publication of its proposals.

Border post at Northern Ireland - Irish Republic border in 1957
Checkpoints - such as this one between at Clones, County Monaghan - were once a feature of everyday lifeImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/S. Smart

While British businesses welcome the proposal, the EU warned that it would only negotiate trade deals after sufficient progress had been made on the UK's withdrawal from the bloc.

The Confederation of British Industry also said that "the clock is ticking" and that it was counting on the government to give "companies the confidence to continue investing as quickly as possible."

Read more: UK to cap Brexit fee at 40 billion euros

Brexit minister: The EU is 'quite cross'

Brexit Minister David Davis told LBC Radio that a "long haggle" lay in store for Britain. According to Davis, chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier is "getting quite cross with us. He's saying 'You should make your proposal.'"

Many EU officials have accused the British government of being ill-prepared for the first round of Brexit talks, and the issue of free trade is likely to increase Europe's irritation.

Talk: Brexit chaos unnerves business

rs, es/rc (AP, Reuters, dpa)