Britain ready for border conflict


The British government has said it is ready to send British soldiers into Irish border areas if Britain leaves the EU without a Brexit deal.

The head of Britain’s Home Office said he could not rule out using the British Army if no deal is agreed.

Philip Rutnam, the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, said soldiers could be called in to “conduct checks and protect the country” if an agreement on Brexit cannot be reached before the deadline in March 2019.

He indicated there was little option as Britain faces a huge shortfall of civilian border staff in the event of a ‘hard Brexit’, but insisted that deploying troops was an “absolute last resort”.

The Home Office this week confirmed that plans for quitting the EU with no deal have been under way for three months. A failure to reach some kind of deal in the Brexit talks will lead to a so-called ‘hard border’ in Ireland, with the imposition of customs and immigration checks. Militant republicans have warned that such measures could provoke armed actions in border areas.

A previous low-level border campaign was mounted by the IRA during a period of relative weakness in the organisation in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It saw attacks directed against British military and policing infrastructure in the border counties.

Rutnam’s comments are the first to raise the potential military implications of a ‘hard Brexit’. His comments came as Dublin government officials said a post-Brexit Border could need eight customs checkpoints, and that an open border would be almost impossible to maintain without some form of agreement.

In an address at the European Council summit dinner on Thursday night, British PM Theresa May said only that there should be no “physical infrastructure” at the border.

She said: “Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances demand specific solutions. It’s vital that joint work on the peace process is not affected in any way. It’s too important for that. Both sides agree that there cannot be any physical infrastructure at the border.”

The 26 County Taoiseach Leo Varadkar welcomed what he said was a “strengthening” of May’s language, but warned that there had not been enough progress in the talks so far. He emphasised that it was not sufficient for the British to restate their intention to avoid a hard Border in Ireland.

“I don’t think it’s enough to say that you don’t want certain outcomes - you have to really explain how you’re going to avoid them,” he said.

He distanced himself from comments made by Ireland’s European Commissioner, Phil Hogan, who said that Britain was on the “cliff edge” of a hard Brexit.

He said that if the British made further concessions, they “will be met with greater understanding” from the European side”.

Ireland’s opposition Fianna Fail party have called for an “electronic border” between the two jurisdictions in Ireland, which Sinn Fein has described as “naive and unworkable”.

Sinn Fein spokesman David Cullinane said the suggestion woud be “grist to the mill” to British Tories who want a hard Brexit.

“The issue of a border requires a political and not a technical or electronic solution,” he said.

“There can be no electronic solution to a political problem. The political solution is that the unique circumstances for Ireland are recognised and that the entire island stays in the customs union and the single market.”

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