Brexit: Irish taoiseach spells out fears over 'hard border' with north

Enda Kenny stresses to Theresa May that open border and trade with Northern Ireland is ‘an absolute priority’

Ireland’s taoiseach has warned Theresa May there would be “very negative consequences” of a hard border being imposed on the frontier between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland as a result of Brexit.

Enda Kenny spelled out Ireland’s fears of a return to customs posts and border checks in a meeting with the UK prime minister during her visit to Dublin on Monday, amid warnings they could become targets for dissident republicans.

The taoiseach stressed that an open border and trade would between the two countries would “continue to be an absolute priority for my government, not just in our discussions with the British government, but also with our EU partners as we prepare for the negotiation process on the EU side of the table”.

In response, May vowed to keep the 300-plus-mile Irish border “friction-free and fluid”, and in a post-summit press conference reiterated that she wanted a “frictionless” border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.

May stressed that she did not want to see a return to “the borders of the past” where regions such as South Armagh were among the most militarised and heavily fortified areas in the western world.

However, she qualified her remarks by saying that she wanted the UK-Irish border to be as fluid “as possible” – a phrase that may raise further concerns in Dublin over British plans for the frontier post Brexit.

On the consequences for Ireland of Britain leaving the customs union, May said: “Of course there are elements of full membership of the customs union that would restrict our ability to trade and do trade agreements with other parts of the world.”

During the Troubles in Northern Ireland the IRA repeatedly attacked customs posts as well as military checkpoints along the border. Rank-and-file police officers in the region recently told the Guardian that the re-establishment of such static posts and checkpoints would turn them into “sitting ducks” for armed dissident republicans opposed to the peace process.

The taoiseach told the press conference that “a close and friction-free economic and trading relationship” between the two countries was “in our very best interests”.

Maintaining that common travel area between the UK and Ireland would be “an important priority’ for Britain when it was negotiating its exit from the EU, May said. It predates the the UK and Ireland’s membership of the European Union, and has permitted passport free travel between the two.

May added: “And of course we also want to ensure that we carry on with the common travel area, which was in existence long before either of us were members of the European Union or its predecessors.”

She said that one of her “explicit objectives” in those negotiations with the remaining EU states would be to take into consideration the special circumstances of Northern Ireland.

May acknowledged that the ability to move across the border freely was “an essential party of daily life” for thousands of people on the island. She added: “And as the UK prepares for its formal notification under article 50, we want to see that these deep trading ties between our two countries are recognised and facilitated.”

The two prime ministers emphasised that the implementation of Brexit would not undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement – the peace accord on which power sharing between unionist and nationalist communities in Northern Ireland is founded.

May said she fully respects that Ireland wishes to remain a member of the European Union.

During their two-hour talk the two premiers also discussed the forthcoming elections to the Northern Ireland assembly and prospects of restoring power sharing government in Belfast following its acrimonious collapse earlier this month. May and Kenny also spoke about other peace process related issues such as the legacy of the Troubles and how Northern Ireland deals with its violent past.

Irish foreign minister, Charlie Flanagan, and Northern Ireland secretary, James Brokenshire, also attended the talks. Brokenshire told the Guardian last September that he preferred an intelligence led cross-border security regime that would include checks on the Republic’s soil in places such as Dublin airport on suspected illegal immigrants attempting to cross into Northern Ireland

This was the prime minister’s third meeting with the taoiseach since entering 10 Downing Street . Before their joint press conference, May signed the visitor’s book inside Kenny’s office which includes a portrait of Michael Collins, the Irish revolutionary leader who negotiated with Lloyd George and Winston Churchill to help found the Irish Free State in 1921.


Henry McDonald in Dublin

The GuardianTramp

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