UK Prime Minister Theresa May is to tell the European Union that the UK will not accept its proposals to deal with one of the thorniest issues in Brexit talks — the issue of the Irish border.
In a speech in Belfast Friday, May is expected to criticize the EU’s “backstop” plan, whereby Northern Ireland would remain closely tied to European regulations after Britain leaves the bloc, in the event of the two sides failing to reach an agreement on a future relationship.
The proposal is intended to avoid a “hard” border between Northern Ireland, which will leave he EU as part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, which remains in the bloc. Border infrastructure such as customs and security posts were removed as part of the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland in the late 1990s.
But, if implemented, it would effectively create a border down the Irish Sea between the island of Ireland and Great Britain. May said that would be unacceptable to any British prime minister. May has proposed instead that any backstop should apply to the whole of the UK.
“The economic and constitutional dislocation of a formal ‘third country’ customs border within our own country is something I will never accept and I believe no British Prime Minister could ever accept,” May will say in the speech at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall.
Perhaps most importantly, it is something the Democratic Unionist Party — the right-wing Northern Irish party which is currently propping up May’s minority Conservative government in Westminster — has vowed not to accept.
At the same time however, May will say the notion of a “hard” border between Northern Ireland and the the Republic of Ireland, which will remain an EU member after the UK officially exits in 2019, is almost inconceivable and would be unworkable for the thousands who cross between the UK and Ireland every day, as well as businesses which operate on both sides of the border.
Referring to a White Paper on Brexit published by the government last week, May will say London has laid out its position and now it was time “for the EU to respond.”
“Not simply to fall back onto previous positions which have already been proven unworkable. But to evolve their position in kind. And, on that basis, I look forward to resuming constructive discussions,” May will say.
There are fears a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which will remain in the EU after the UK leaves in March 2019, could cause a return to the violence which plagued the region for decades.