The failure of the British body politic to understand the implications of reinforcing the border through Ireland has dominated news coverage at a critical juncture in the negotiations over Britain’s departure from the EU.

On Tuesday, Channel 4 News asked a selection of people on the streets in England for their views on the Border as a Brexit stumbling block - starting with whether they actually know where the Border is.

The results showed a stunning lack of knowledge of Ireland’s political history or geography.

A young woman redrew the Border so that it ran right through the middle of the 26 County state from Galway to Dublin, suggesting that a hard border “would shut them off a lot I suppose”.

An older woman in a red beret believed the “Southern Irish” should just accept a hard border because “they lost”. She said: “The Irish are just making trouble because they lost. It’s a bit petty isn’t it, really?

“Yeah, the Southern Irish just have to lump it basically. You can’t always have what you want in life.”

But it has been clear the ignorance of the Irish question reaches well into the corridors of power at Whitehall.

British Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith’s bizarrely claimed that, by seeking to uphold the Good Friday Agreement, the Dublin government is “showboating” as a defence against Sinn Fein. The former cabinet Minister claimed this was because “the presidential election is coming up”.

Last weekend, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s ignorance of the dangers posed by Brexit alarmed Irish civil servants during a series of meetings in Dublin last weekend.

One official told journalists he “has no idea of the practical ramifications” of the decision to leave the EU. At one point, Johnson identified the Irish Border with the international ports of Dover and Calais.

Also raising hackles was a prominent Brexit-backing MP who insisted the 26 County state should “have to pay” for new border patrols and installations. Kate Hoey was compared to Donald Trump after saying: “We’re not the ones who are going to be putting up the physical border. If it ends up with a no deal we won’t be putting up the border - they’ll have to pay for it, because it doesn’t need to happen.”

And British Prime Minster Theresa May’s former Downing Street Chief of Staff patronisingly wrote that Britain needs “to help Ireland’s young and inexperienced leader back down from his impossible Brexit demands”. In a column for the ‘Daily Telegraph’, Nick Timothy dismissed Irish concerns as “a dangerous obstacle”.


The Democratic Unionist Party has threatened to pull the plug on its deal to keep the Tories in power in London if the British Prime Minister Theresa May wavers on the border. Sammy Wilson, one of the DUP’s 10 MPs, said the party would not accept any moves that would see Northern Ireland “treated differently than the rest of the UK”.

The warning follows reports that further powers could be devolved to Belfast to allow rules in areas such as agriculture and energy to be aligned with the EU. The move could dismantle the need for a hard border, industry by industry, in a scheme described as “regulatory convergence”.

However, the DUP are having none of it. “If there is any hint that, in order to placate Dublin and the EU, they’re prepared to have Northern Ireland treated differently than the rest of the United Kingdom, then they can’t rely on our vote,” Mr Wilson said.

“They have to recognise that, if this is about treating Northern Ireland differently, or leaving us half in the EU, dragging along behind regulations which change in Dublin, it’s not on.”

The DUP stance, echoed by party leader Arlene Foster at the party’s annual conference last weekend, opens up the possibility that the Tories will need to appeal to pro-Brexit MPs in Labour in order to win the support of parliament for a deal.

Michael Creed, Ireland’s minister for agriculture, told the broadcaster RTE that the Brexit talks were now at a critical juncture and that it is “squeaky bum time”.

Meanwhile, there was evident relief when President of the European Council Donald Tusk gave his full support to Ireland in the Brexit negotiations, saying if the British offer on the Border “is unacceptable to Ireland it will be unacceptable to the EU”.

Mr Tusk met Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin on Friday ahead of next Monday’s deadline for British prime minister Theresa May to submit her Government’s final offer for the three issues in phase one of Brexit negotiations.

In a brief media appearance with Mr Varadkar after the meeting, Mr Tusk offered support for Ireland that was seen to be robust. In effect, he said that the EU would give Dublin the right to veto any offer on the Border that is being offered by Mrs May.

“We agreed today that before proposing guidelines on transition and future relations I will consult the Taoiseach on [whether or not] the UK offer is sufficient for the Irish Government,” he said. “Let me say very clearly if the UK offer is unacceptable for Ireland it will be unacceptable for the EU.”

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