Token border visit mocked as Brexit ‘solution’ could be postponed

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Britain’s ‘Brexit’ Minister was secretly parachuted in and out of Ireland for a photo-opportunity at the border this week in a humiliating exercise for the British Crown.

The images of David Davis appearing and then vanishing led to a deluge of criticism and reinforced the belief that the Minister knows and cares little about Brexit’s effect in Ireland.

His presence only broke media silence when he tweeted a photo of himself in Middletown, County Armagh, and his visit only became public knowledge after he had already left.

It was reported that he spoke to local business people and also viewed disused customs infrastructure at a border crossing into County Monaghan. It is one of 208 public border crossings which British and Irish officials have identified as requiring enforcement, substantially more than the 137 along the entire border between the EU and all the countries to the east of the bloc.

His visit contrasted sharply with that of the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, who met farmers, business and transport representatives and community groups in a publicised visit to the same border area last autumn.

Mickey Brady, Sinn Fein MP for Newry and Armagh, accused Mr Davis of avoiding a meeting with him because he is “afraid to face the truth about Brexit”.

Mr Brady’s party colleague, West Belfast MP Paul Maskey, said Mr Davis should have informed Sinn Fein “out of courtesy and protocol”.

“Shows his contempt to locally elected representatives who know more about the impacts of Brexit than he will ever know,” he tweeted.

A spokeswoman for Davis’s department later admitted there had been no notification to the local MP, which would normally be required procedure, and described it as “an administrative oversight”. The spokesperson said he had been on a “private” visit which had been facilitated by Co-operation Ireland, a government-funded peace and security organisation.

The trip, made almost two years after the EU referendum, was little more than a “box-ticking exercise”, the SDLP’s Claire Hanna said.

“Maybe the minister is troubled that we might actually have asked him if he learned anything and how he plans to stop a hard Border here when his government continues to dig its heels in on the customs union,” she said.

“This visit was nothing more than a box-ticking exercise. The Border shouldn’t have just been an afterthought months down the line, but should have been a priority for the Brexit minister.”

The visit failed to dampen Davis’s support for Britain leaving the EU Customs Union, despite the likely need for a resumption of British military patrols and checkpoints across Ireland in support of the new ‘Border Force’.

He said he would view Britain remaining within the Customs Union “as a failure”. He also said a solution for the border “won’t really be needed” until the end of the Brexit transition period in January 2021 because Britain will effectively remain inside the customs union and single market during the interim phase.

The 26 County Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said “sufficient and substantial” progress on the border issue is needed by the time European leaders gather in June. He declined to explain what might happen if that deadline wasn’t met, leading to fears the matter could drag on without a clear resolution.

Sinn Fein Brexit Spokesperson David Cullinane said Davis must do more when it comes to avoiding a hardening of the border on the Island and protecting the Good Friday Agreement.

“At the very least Mr Davis and his government must spell out in clear terms how the ‘backstop’ arrangement agreed last December will be implemented,” he said. “Sinn Fein for our part will continue to argue for full special status for the North.”

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