'Ireland will not be ignored' on post-Brexit border question

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent
Simon Coveney: ‘It seems essential to us that there is no emergence of regulatory divergence from the the rules of the internal market or the customs unions.’ Photograph: Reuters

Britain will not be allowed to dictate the future of the Irish border post-Brexit, Ireland’s foreign minister has warned in a hardening of rhetoric over the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

Simon Coveney told his party’s biannual conference on Saturday that Ireland would remain a steadfast opponent to any proposal that would create a hard border with the republic.

He said Ireland’s position was “consistent, firm and stubborn” and it would not abandon its opposition.

Coveney reiterated demands that Northern Ireland remain in the customs union and the single market – a position Ireland sees as the only viable way of achieving an invisible border with Northern Ireland .

“Let me be very clear: the Irish government’s position is it seems essential to us that there is no emergence of regulatory divergence from the the rules of the internal market or the customs unions which are necessary from meaningful north-south cooperation, or an all-Ireland economy that is consistent with the Good Friday agreement,” he said.

The question of the Irish border has the potential to further derail Britain’s hopes of moving on to the second phase of Brexit talks in December.

On Friday the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, warned that the UK has two weeks to come up with clarifications on the three round one issues: the divorce bill, EU citizens’ rights and Ireland.

Coveney told delegates at the conference on Friday night that the government would “never sell out” of the commitment to stop a hard border emerging on the island.

He warned that Britain would have to do more to show it would honour the pledges set out in the Good Friday agreement, which had eradicated border controls almost 20 years ago: “Ireland will not be ignored.”

On Friday, the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said the only way an invisible border could be achieved would be through a “bespoke” solution seeing Northern Ireland staying in the customs union and the single market even if the rest of the United Kingdom did not.

Speaking in Jersey, he said there was a precedent for a tailored solution in the Isle of Man, which is a member of the customs union and has free movement of goods and products without being in the EU.

Leo Varadkar said an invisible border could only be achieved if Northern Ireland remains in the customs union and the single market. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Ireland’s position chimes with that of the EU, which this week said the only way to avoid a hard border was to ensure there was no “regulatory divergence” north and south of the border. That would mean staying in both the customs union and the single market.

Illustrating a possible deepening divide on the issue, the Brexit secretary, David Davis, in turn said he would not accept a proposal that threatened the UK’s “constitutional and economic integrity”.

Sources in Brussels say European commission is very sensitive to the Irish question and Varadkar has the support of its president, Jean-Claude Juncker.

Coveney told RTE’s Morning Ireland programme on Friday that “there was a way to go between the two negotiating teams to be able to provide credible answers and sufficient progress in the context of the Irish border before we can move on to phase two”.

“While we welcome the language we get from the British government in the context of north-south challenges ... there has always been a scepticism on how we are going to get there in the context of the British approach to Brexit as a whole,” he said.

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