Ireland has told leading EU negotiators that its border with the United Kingdom must stay “invisible” after Brexit and said it was “firmly on the side” of the 27 remaining member states in the forthcoming divorce talks.
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan yesterday (9 February) met with the chief Brexit negotiators of the European Commission and Parliament, Michel Barnier and Guy Verhofstadt. Flanagan also met with leading MEPs.
After Brexit, the Republic of Ireland will become the EU’s only land border with the UK. Its border with Northern Ireland has allowed free movement between the two countries. Up to 1 million people cross the border every month and there is much cross-border trade.
“This border between north and south is invisible,” Flanagan told reporters after a whistle-stop tour of Brussels. “We all want to maintain the invisibility of the border.”
Ireland is pushing EU negotiators to recognise the unique nature of the border. Flanagan said there was recognition of the special status from EU chiefs.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has signalled the UK will leave the single market and likely the customs union. But she also specifically mentioned the Irish case in the white paper on Brexit, which Flanagan said meant she too recognised the island of Ireland was a special case.
The UK is leaving the single market because access to it is conditional on the free movement of EU citizens across borders. May believes that the 23 June referendum result was a mandate to take back control of the UK’s borders and control immigration.
There are fears that a disorderly exit from the EU could lead to reinstatement of border controls across the region, which was plagued with sectarian violence and terrorism. That could impact on Ireland’s economy, which is still recovering from the financial crisis.
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) February 9, 2017
Brexit has also led to calls for the island of Ireland to reunite with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny mooting the possibility of future unification referendum. The island was partitioned in 1922, after the Irish war of independence.
In 1998, the Good Friday Agreement on how Northern Ireland should be governed was signed. It brought the terrorist campaigns in the region and the rest of the UK to an end.
Relations between Britain and Ireland have improved ever since. Flanagan said the EU had helped broker the peace.
But Flanagan hit back at suggestions that Ireland’s close relationship and shared history with Britain made it a weak link in the EU-27’s unity.
“We are firmly on the side of the EU-27,” Flanagan said before pointing out that Northern Ireland had largely voted to remain and that its citizens qualified for Irish and therefore EU citizenship.
“We don’t subscribe to the view that punishment should be exacted [on the UK],” he added.
There have been suggestion that the EU will impose a punitive Brexit deal on Britain to deter other countries from leaving the bloc. But Flanagan said he had heard no one in Brussels advance that view.
Brexit posed “monumental problems” for the whole of the Ireland,” Flanagan said but as a democrat he had to accept the British vote to quit the EU.
“I don’t see any positives in the withdrawal from the EU of the UK, for the EU or for the UK,” Flanagan said.
Negotiations will be triggered by the invoking of Article 50, which is the legal process taking the UK out of the EU, and May has promised to fire the starting gun by the end of March.
He added that Michel Barnier and the British would begin the divorce talks by discussing the financial settlement that the UK would have to pay to leave.
Earlier this week, the European Commission likened the final settlement of financial commitments to paying for a round of drinks, after having been treated in an earlier round.