United Kingdom: Brexit stymied at Irish border
Will Brexit be Brexit in name only? asked Tim Sculthorpe and Kate Ferguson in the Daily Mail (U.K.). A “row over the Irish border” could leave Britain with no option but to stay in the European Union’s customs union. That’s because when we leave the EU next year, we will take Northern Ireland—which, like England, Wales, and Scotland, is part of the U.K.—with us, creating a new hard border between the EU and U.K. where Northern Ireland meets Ireland. But nobody wants checkpoints there: Their elimination was a key part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of sectarian violence in the North. Prime Minister Theresa May’s government has proposed using drones and other devices to create an “invisible border” that would check vehicles and goods without armed guards. Since such technology does not yet exist, Brussels has dismissed the idea as a “Narnia” solution. The EU proposes letting Northern Ireland stay in the customs union, which would in effect relocate the border to the Irish Sea. But Northern Ireland’s staunchly pro-British Democratic Unionist Party refuses that option, saying it would weaken the province’s ties to London. May—whose minority Conservative government depends on DUP support—says no prime minister could allow it.
The EU just “wants to humiliate us,” said The Daily Telegraph (U.K.) in an editorial. It has rejected all of May’s compromise proposals because it seeks “to bind us to its regulations in perpetuity.” If a porous land border in Ireland is impossible, and one in the Irish Sea untenable, then, the EU says, why not keep the U.K. within the customs union? Brexit would then have no point, because EU rules would stop Britain from striking trade deals with other countries. That is patently Brussels’ goal: “to make the process of leaving so expensive, so complicated, and so diluted that Britain declares to the world that it was wrong even to try.” May must not buckle to such bullying, said The Sun (U.K.). To quit the EU only to leave Brussels in charge of our trade policy “would be a catastrophic national humiliation.”
What choice does May have? asked Chris Johns in The Irish Times (Ireland). Under World Trade Organization rules, border checks must be implemented if Britain exits the customs union. To avoid the restoration of a hard border, either Northern Ireland or the whole U.K. “has to stay within the customs and single-market rules.” Everyone knows this. Yet when EU officials point out this simple truth, Brexiteers “cry foul and mutter about European perfidy.” This could be the thread that unravels the entire Brexit enterprise, said Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times (U.K.). If May eschews the customs union, we will crash out of the EU with no deal, devastating our economy. If she accepts it, her government—which is divided between Remainers and Brexiteers—could fall and we might get a new Brexit vote. “Hard-line Remainers should not give up yet.”