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Border after Brexit? UK keen to retain free flow with Ireland

The Theresa May government has said it wants the current borderless arrangement between the United Kingdom and Ireland to continue after Brexit.

world Updated: Aug 16, 2017 18:35 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Prime Minister Theresa May stands on the flight deck as she speaks to crew members of the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth during her tour of the ship after it arrived at Portsmouth naval base on August 16, 2017. (Reuters)

The only EU country with which the United Kingdom has a land border is its former colony of Ireland, but the Theresa May government announced on Wednesday it wants the current borderless arrangement between the two countries to continue after Brexit.

Setting out its intentions in a position paper, the government said it wants to address the “unique circumstances” with Ireland, with which the UK not only shares the land border from Northern Ireland, but also history, trade and close people-to-people ties.

The position paper published ahead of the August negotiating round in Brussels states the government will protect the Common Travel Area (CTA) and associated rights for UK and Irish citizens, and put upholding the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement at the heart of its talks.

London’s position on the issuewill need to be negotiated with Brussels. The seemingly intractable position between the two sides on various issueswas reiterated last week, when the May government proposed a new agreement on the customs union that was soon shot down by Brussels as “fantasy”.

The latest paper put forward proposals on avoiding a hard border for the movement of goods — making clear the UK’s position that there should be no physical infrastructure at the frontier —and plans to preserve the wide range of institutional cooperation between Northern Ireland, Ireland and Great Britain.

Prime Minister May said: “No one voted to end the special ties between the UK and Ireland or to undermine the unique arrangements between Ireland and Northern Ireland which have underpinned the peace process and have been in place well before our membership of the EU."

However, responding to the position paper, a spokeswoman for the European Commission said: “We must discuss how to maintain the Common Travel Area and protect, in all of its dimensions, the Good Friday Agreement - of which the UK is a co-guarantor. It is essential that we have a political discussion on this before looking at technical solutions."

In London, Brexit secretary David Davis said London and Dublin were clear that protecting the Belfast Agreement in Brexit negotiations and ensuring that the land border is as seamless as possible for people and businesses was a priority.

“In committing to keep the Common Travel Area, which has existed for nearly a century, we're making sure UK and Irish citizens will continue to be able to travel, live, work and study across both countries,” he said.

First Published: Aug 16, 2017 18:35 IST