Brexit: Ireland in a ‘hell of a mess’ as hard border would be disastrous | Politics | News

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Mr Ahern said issue is now more on the agenda than it was before

Bertie Ahern, who worked on the Good Friday Agreement with Tony Blair and served as the head of the Irish Government for more than a decade, said people were now debating it again in the country.

Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark asked: “In a way, the Republic of Ireland should understand the majority decision in the UK to take back what they see as sovereignty from the EU – do you respect that decision?”

Mr Ahern concluded: “Of course we respect that decision, the UK were entitled to have the vote and they’ve made that decision.

“But I think the UK have to understand that by making that decision they have made a hell of a mess for us and they have a responsibility to help us find a solution and so far on the border issue they haven’t done that.”

When asked about the impact of a hard border on the peace process, Mr Ahern said: “It would be a huge set back to us.

“The idea of putting customs checks up again, security checks, I don’t think we’re ever going to go back to the watchtowers or the huge security presence. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that and I don’t think it is going to happen.

“I think the people who will be popping the champagne will be dissidents. If you put a physical border back on the island of Ireland, you are giving a huge incentive to those who want to cause mischief.

“I think it would just be so disastrous. The amount of effort of so many people to avoid that, to consider to going back to hat is just unbelievable.”

He said: “That issue is now more on the agenda than it was before.”

Ms Wark asked: “As a result of Brexit?”

Mr Ahern replied: “Yeah, from the result of Brexit. There are more people debating it, they’re debating it in college debates now, I’ve been asked to several of them.

“And people are definitely looking now at what shape it will be, how will it happen.

“My own view is that there will be a time to discuss that. It’s not now because we still have the institutions not up and running, we still have too much of an unsettled climate to be having votes on it.

“But I think inevitably, on the Good Friday Agreement a border poll is part of the clauses in it and I think Brexit brings it closer – closer, but not too close in my view.”

The question of how to resolve whether there should be a hard border in Ireland is one of the main issues surrounding the Brexit negotiations.

If Britain was no longer in a customs union with the EU it would allow the UK to strike its own deals with third countries which have no similar deal with the bloc.

But, the EU needs to be able to stop goods from that third country flowing into Northern Ireland and then into the EU via the Republic.

Also, if the UK diverges from EU rules and no longer meets the same standards, then goods will need to be checked and potentially turned back before being allowed in the country.

Therefore, the EU would need a border. But most people want to avoid this.

A border would be an economic burden and could potentially undermine the peace process.


mr Ahern worked on the Good Friday Agreement with Tony Blair

The EU originally declared the onus of deciding what to do with the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland was on the UK.

There were talks of using technology to process goods to bypass the need for a physical border.

But a leaked document from the European Commission “dialogue paper” revealed a change in policy.

It said it is “Essential for the UK to commit to ensuring no emergence of regulatory divergence from those rules of the internal market and the Customs Union”.

The Republic of Ireland has come up with a radical solution in which Northern Ireland would be treated as part of the Customs Union and Single Market to eliminate the need for a hard border.


The former Taoiseach said Brexit has made a hell of a mess for Ireland

But that would require customs arrangements for goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which the UK does not want because it will undermine its economic and constitutional integrity.

Dublin has a veto on taking talks forward and on the final trade deal.

When asked if he thought a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was inevitable, he said: “I think the issue is fairly clear. It’s impossible to have an invisible border or a border that’s controlled by technology if you’re not in the Single Market.

“The argument today is the EU have come to the conclusion that after 12 months of looking at this that they believe to stay in the Single Market and to stay in the Customs Union is the only way you can avoid a border.

“Of course, the difficulty for that is the British Government don’t agree with that, the DUP don’t agree with that and the Irish Government do.”

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