There are concerns that the European Union is ready to sacrifice Ireland in its Brexit negotiations after EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier declared that a “frictionless” EU border across Ireland is not possible following Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.
Barnier (pictured) said that British ideas about leaving the EU single market and building “a customs union to achieve frictionless trade....is not possible”, adding: “The decision to leave the EU has consequences.”
His comments are a clear rejection of the negotiating position set out by British Prime Minister Theresa May, and have sparked renewed fears about the consequences of Brexit for Ireland’s border region.
Sinn Fein Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty TD said that Barnier’s comments had exposed the weakness of the Dublin government’s Brexit negotiating strategy.
“The government has failed to prioritise the case for the North of Ireland to secure designated special status within the EU,” he said.
“Short of Irish reunification, this is the only way to resolve the issue of an EU frontier on the island of Ireland.
“As Sinn Fein has warned consistently, Brexit has potentially disastrous implications for the Irish economy, cross border trade, and the Good Friday Agreement.
“Government spin about the possibility of a ‘soft Brexit’ and a ‘frictionless Border’ have never amounted to more than wishful thinking.”
“The government’s flawed, weak, and misguided negotiations strategy has been an abject failure,” added Doherty.
“Even at this late stage, the government needs to change tack and up its game in relation to Brexit and the consequences for Ireland. They need to start putting Ireland’s interests first and stop pretending that the EU will do it for us.”
Barnier’s remarks were mirrored in a surprisingly hardline position adopted by members of the European Parliament, who this week rejected an amendment by Sinn Fein’s GUE/NGL group in a parliament vote to give the North of Ireland a special status with the EU.
Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd said the situation made it clear that “there will be dire economic consequences” for Ireland.
“The DUP and others can no longer tell businesses and farmers everything will be ok and that they can carry on with trading across the island in the same way they can at present,” he said.
Tom Kelly, a key figure in the ‘remain’ campaign in the North of Ireland, said: “People keep talking about frictionless borders and being creative and imaginative about solutions - the reality is where you have borders you have barriers.”