Why is the Irish border such a tricky subject in the Brexit negotiations?
On the 29th of March 2019, the Brexit will become official and the UK will leave the European Union. Before this day, the UK and the EU will have to make a lot of rules and regulations concerning Great Britain’s leave. The best and easiest option for Great Britain would be to stay in the EU’s customs union. However, this is against the whole idea of ‘taking back control’ that led to the Brexit in the first place. One of the tricky subjects in the negotiations is the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
Nowadays, the 500 km border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic is completely open, meaning all the goods and services can be traded across the borders without any extra check and no physical border is present. Both countries are against a physical border after the Brexit, but not doing this will cause difficulties as they will have different custom regimes. Therefore, custom controls are needed. Another problem is that frontier checks are in violation of the Good Friday Agreement made in 1998, which played a big role in ending the violence present in Ireland at the end of the 20th century. Violating this agreement could cause new conflict in the region.
A solution would be to give Northern Ireland a special position, which allows them to follow the same rules as the European Union with respect to agriculture and energy. This special position would allow the border to remain invisible, while Great Britain is still in charge of their own custom regime. A downside of this plan is that untaxed goods from the UK can be smuggled into the EU illegally via this border.
Last week, a draft proposal concerning the Irish border was constructed. It stated: “In the absence of agreed solutions the UK will ensure that there continues to be continued regulatory alignment from those rules of the internal market and the customs union which, now or in the future, support North South cooperation and the protection of the Good Friday Agreement.”
Northern Ireland was fiercely against this statement as they did not want to have different economic or political rules from the rest of the UK. Moreover, they are afraid that this will lead to borders in the Irish sea (between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK) to prevent smuggling.
If this deal is carried out, political leaders from Scotland, Wales and London already expressed they want to have a special deal to be able to trade with the EU without any barriers as well. However, if these rules are set for the entire country the Brexiteers are against as they want to escape all the EU rules and regulations.
Last weekend, the EU and UK came to a sort of arrangement concerning the Irish border. The problem with this is that it does not explicitly say what will happen regarding the border. It says that first, the UK and EU will try to make a UK-wide deal concerning custom regulations and trade. If that fails, the UK will try to arrange a special deal for Northern Ireland, which was exactly what they were already trying to do in the first place.