The Irish government has warned that unless it receives a written commitment from the UK that there will be no return to a physical border in Ireland it will block Brexit talks from proceeding to the next phase of negotiations. The demand was made by Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Gothenburg on Friday morning where he met Prime Minister Theresa May on the sidelines of an EU social summit.
“We’ve been given assurances that there will be no hard border in Ireland, that there won’t be any physical infrastructure, that we won’t go back to the borders of the past,” Varadkar said. “We want that written down in practical terms in the conclusions of phase one.” Settling the question of the Northern Irish border with the Republic – which will become the UK’s only land border with the EU once it leaves the bloc – is one of three issues that Ireland and the rest of the EU want to see addressed before moving on to talks about the UK’s future trade relationship with Brussels. The other two areas concern Britain’s financial settlement with the EU and the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and those of British citizens in Europe.
Varadkar’s statements were echoed by Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney after a meeting with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in Dublin. “We all want to move on to phase two of the Brexit negotiations, but we are not in a place right now that allows us to do it,” Coveney said. The Irish foreign minister also poured cold water on the UK’s “aspiration” to leave the customs union whilst avoiding the need for a hard border being in Ireland. “We simply don’t see how we can avoid border infrastructure,” Coveney said. “Once standards change it creates differences between the two jurisdictions and a different rule book. When you have a different rule book you are starting to go down the route of having to have checks.”
EU papers leaked during the week suggested that a deal would have to be made that allowed Northern Ireland to remain within the customs union, a position that was swiftly rejected by the British government.