‘Hard Brexit’ fears for Ireland
‘Hard Brexit’ fears for Ireland


A landmark speech on Britain’s departure from the European Union has failed to allay fears of “hard border” controls and economic chaos across the island of Ireland.

In her plans for Britain’s exit from the EU, outlined in a speech on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May said that she wants to fully quit the EU and does not want an outcome that “leaves the UK half-in”.

Mrs May was lauded in the Tory media as the “new Iron Lady” for her direct and aggressive tone ahead of negotiations with the EU, but alarm bells are ringing in Ireland.

Among the 12 objectives Mrs May set out, the PM said maintaining the common travel area between the United Kingdom and the 26 Counties was a “priority” during the negotiations. She said “no-one wants to return to the borders of the past”.

However, Mrs May also said she wanted to negotiate a new form of customs union, which could lead to custom checks at the Irish border. She also stressed that any deal on the border issue would have to somehow respect the “integrity” of the British immigration system.

“We cannot forget that, as we leave, the United Kingdom will share a land border with the EU, and maintaining that common travel area with the Republic of Ireland will be an important priority for the UK in the talks ahead,” she said.

“There has been a common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland for many years. Indeed, it was formed before either of our two countries were members of the European Union. And the family ties and bonds of affection that unite our two countries mean that there will always be a special relationship between us.

“So we will work to deliver a practical solution that allows the maintenance of the common travel area with the Republic, while protecting the integrity of the United Kingdom’s immigration system. Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past, so we will make it a priority to deliver a practical solution as soon as we can.”

Her speech has increased speculation that border checks could be maintained at ports crossing the Irish Sea rather than along the Six County border.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said if there is a new border, it “must be around the island of Ireland and not across it”.

“The people of Ireland, north and south, have chosen a different future to the hard Brexit, hard border vision outlined in Theresa May’s speech,” he said. “The only way Theresa May can impose new customs and immigration rules is by moving her border checks to Liverpool, Stanstead and Stranraer.”

But he also warned the North’s exit from the single market and the customs union will mean “economic devastation”.

He said: “Nowhere will be more damaged by this vision than Northern Ireland,” adding: “The idea that the unelected, unrepresentative British House of Lords would receive a vote on the terms of Brexit but that the devolved regions won’t, is an act of democratic vandalism.”

There was also alarm south of the border after Department of Finance experts in Dublin calculated a hard Brexit would cost the state as many as 40,000 jobs and could cut 20 billion euro from the 26 County economy.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said May’s vision would mean a “hard Brexit for Ireland”.

He said: “The decision to leave the single market and the customs union sets Britain on course for a hard Brexit. The economic and political implications of this for the people of this island are significant.

“The British Prime Minister provided no new information about Britain’s approach to the North in respect of Brexit; no willingness to look at a special designated status for the North within the EU; no real role for the devolved governments in the negotiations; and old rhetoric on the future of the Common Travel Area.”

Mr Adams added: “Her remarks on the future of the Common Travel Area contained no new detail.

“As she has said before Ms May set the future of the border and any arrangements with the island of Ireland in the context of Britain’s determination to control immigration and defend its borders.

“It is difficult to see how this can be accomplished without significant changes to the current border arrangements.

“The British Prime Minister also said that the electorate voted with their eyes open to leave the European Union. She ignores the fact that voters in the north did not. They voted to remain.”

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