Exhaustion at Britain’s scattershot border ideas

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Britain’s cartwheeling approach to Brexit and the north of Ireland has reached a critical point with a new plan to expand the Irish border into a ten-mile demilitarised ‘buffer’ zone.

The zone would eliminate the need for checkpoints with the 26 Counties, British officials have claimed, while Irish politicians warned it would merely displace the required infrastructure.

The leaked plan by Britain’s Brexit Minister David Davis would also give the Six Counties ‘European Union status’ so it could trade freely with both the EU and Britain. That idea was welcomed as a shift towards special status for the North of Ireland within the EU, long advocated as a practical solution to the border problem, but the motivation behind the planned border zone remains a mystery, beyond a claim that it would benefit dairy farmers.

Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson said the proposals were an attempt to hide a hard border. She said the British government should accept the fallback ‘backstop’ plan for the North to remain within the EU customs union and single market.

“The latest reports of a new plan on Brexit and the border from David Davies are light on detail and do not take into account the reality of life along the border, particularly in areas such as Derry, Strabane and Newry which are essentially cross-border,” she said.

“Once again this shows the lack of knowledge of border areas and the concerns they face - David Davis obviously didn’t learn much on his flying visits.

“The creation of a buffer zone would merely move the problem away from the border and hide a hard border in a buffer zone.

“While it appears that the British government is finally accepting that a unique solution is required for the north of Ireland, it must also accept the backstop option which it has already agreed.

“This proposed plan, which is still being devised, focuses solely on trade and does not take into account the huge impact Brexit will have on the rights of people in the north.

“The best way to protect trade, agriculture and the rights of people living in the north, as well as ensuring full protection for the Good Friday Agreement is for the north to remain in the customs union and single market and to have special status within the EU.”

Davis’s ideas are the latest in a series of comments and suggestions by senior Tories. Another recent plan involved placing a tracked GPS device into every vehicle on the island. Former British Direct Ruler Owen Paterson said this would assist in customs controls.

Meanwhile, the PSNI police in the north of Ireland is to ask the British government to fund the recruitment of at least 300 extra members for border operations, while a Garda police chief in the 26 Counties has called for rapid-fire Uzi submachine guns to be made available to border officers.

In unusually contrary remarks, the Tories’ unionist allies in the DUP urged them to stop coming up with “half-cooked ideas” on dealing with the Border and to provide clarity on its Brexit plan.

The party’s East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson revealed that none of the mooted proposals had been discussed with his party. He described them as “at best contradictory” and said it wasn’t clear which regulations would apply in the future under Davis’s plan.

The Dublin government has now given the British Prime Minister two weeks to table written proposals on how to solve the border issue in order to avoid a crisis at a crucial EU summit later this month.

“If there is no progress on the backstop [fallback arrangements], we are in for an uncertain summer,” Mr Coveney said. “At this point we need written proposals on the Irish backstop consistent with what was agreed.”

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