Brexit blame game underway
Brexit blame game underway


Claims by the British government that they wish to impose no additional border reinforcements in Ireland following their departure from the European Union are being treated with scepticism.

After months of contradictory and confused statements and stances, two documents emerged this week which offered the prospect of setting out the British position on key issues such as customs and immigration controls.

However, the claim that the British government will make no effort to prevent immigrants arriving to Britain via Ireland on foot of their racially-motivated Brexit has already been widely ridiculed. A bizarre ‘do-nothing’ fudge on customs controls in the north of Ireland has been greeted similarly.

The Irish border currently has 275 border crossings, more than twice the number the EU has along its entire frontier with eastern Europe. Despite detailed plans being advanced for weeks, suggestions to use advanced spy cameras and electromagnetic scanning on the border to impose controls appear to have been shelved for now.

However, fears remains that the documents could form the first gambit in a blame game over moves which could ultimately return the Irish border to its status as the most militarised frontier in western Europe.

The hardline unionist DUP said it had persuaded the British government to “rule out” any Brexit that would involve a border between the two islands. They said they had convinced London to reject the treatment of the Six Counties as a separate entity, subject to separate rules, or for it to remain part of the EU customs union or single market.

The current British position puts the onus on the Dublin government and the EU to impose border restrictions to prevent illegal immigration and trade controls. British officials claimed that their hands-off proposals could be open to “fraud” but that this could be “managed”.

However, former UKIP leader and prominent Brexiteer Nigel Farage said it was “of concern” that EU citizens would still be able to move freely across the Irish border without any immigration checks. The Liberal Democrats said the latest proposal “has more holes in it than a colander” as it admitted Britain would not reclaim control of its borders.

The 26 County Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said significant questions remained unanswered, but accepted the British papers as a negotiating stance.

He joined in warnings about delivery, but welcomed stated commitments to upholding the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the Common Travel Area, as well as EU-related funding for the border area.

Referring to the paper on future customs arrangements published on Tuesday, Mr Coveney said he welcomed language he had not heard before about a ‘customs union partnership’ which, it was argued, would negate the need for customs checks. However, he said some proposals were “unworkable.. in the context of smuggling and so on”.

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill rubbished the plans, describing them as “big on aspiration and light on clarity”, “big on rhetoric but thin on actual commitments”.

She said the proposals on customs had been dismissed within hours as deluded, untested and unrealistic.

“What the British government are doing is treating us as collateral damage,” she said. “They are very interested in the needs of the British people but not of the needs of the people here who voted to remain within the European Union.

“I think we could be forgiven for thinking that the British government in this latest document are using us and our unique circumstances here to try to put pressure on the European Union.”

Labour MP Conor McGinn, who grew up in the North of Ireland, accused Theresa May’s government of “vagueness and posturing.”

“These proposals on a light touch border are lighter still on detail,” Mr McGinn said.

Sinn Fein’s Brexit spokesperson David Cullinane aid today that the British proposals for a “bespoke” customs union after March 2019 show that the Tories “have not quite grasped the reality of the situation that Britain finds itself in”.

However, he welcomed the fact that the London government had acknowledged that a full and complete break from the customs union and the single market would not be possible by March 2019.

“Furthermore, the proposal to extend article 50 requires the agreement of all 27 states, including the Irish government.

“The Irish government should stand up for the national interest and should only agree to an extension that is in our interests, that is, the economy, trade, the rights of citizens, and the protection of the Good Friday Agreement, in all of its aspects.

“The British government’s policy of Brexit is bad for our economy, trade and agreements.

“The best solution is for the whole island of Ireland to remain within the EU; the single market, customs union, and common travel area together. This can be achieved through designated special status for the North within the EU, avoiding any economic border, and retaining the free movement of people, goods, and services.”

Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson said the current Tory Brexit agenda is an attack on the human rights of the people of the north.

“The fact that the proposals published this week by the British government on dealing with Brexit and the north is totally silent on the human rights, particularly the European Convention on Human Rights, and continued access the courts over breaches to human rights legislation is very concerning.

“The Tories talk about being committed to the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts but appear to have ignored their human rights obligations under the agreement.

“The entirety of the Good Friday Agreement, including the human rights it safeguards, must be protected in the Brexit negotiations.

“The best way to protect our rights is for the north to secure designated special status within the EU.”

There are also concerns that Britain’s new diplomatic offensive amounts to little more than covering propaganda for aggressive actions down the line. Notably, after months of encouragement in the British right-wing media for Ireland to leave the EU as the solution to the border problem, traditional anti-Irish rhetoric has returned.

An openly racist piece for Country Squire Magazine, headlined ‘Get Stuffed, Eire’, has attracted widespread indignation.

In a long rant claiming the “best things in Eire are all British”, author Jim Browne labelled Ireland a country “where the burglars from Britain - with surnames like Kettle and Rafferty - return to build eyesore ‘palaces’ in ratholes like Rathkeale (a small Irish town swollen by the proceeds of crime)”.

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