German think tank paints bleak picture of post-Brexit hard border

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A Berlin think-tank has delivered an alarming insight into German thinking around Brexit and torpedoed any wishful thinking that a ‘frictionless border’ might be achievable once the United Kingdom leaves the EU.

Nicolai von Ondarza and Julia Becker of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), which advises both the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the European Union, have outlined the likely devastating consequences of Brexit for the border region of Derry and Donegal and the Irish economy as a whole, in a new research paper.

‘Negotiating with a Dis-United Kingdom,’ makes no attempt to sugar the Brexit pill, instead warning of the real impact the UK’s departure from the EU will have on cross-border trade, peace and structural funding and freedom of movement.

While noting that cross-border trade in Ireland generates 2.8billion euros a year; that there exists a largely integrated all-island electricity and gas grid; and that around 15,000 commuters cross the border every day; Mr. von Ondarza and Ms. Becker, state: “It is hard to see how it can retain that degree of openness after it becomes an external border of the EU.”

The authors acknowledge how the Common Travel Area (CTA) pre-dates both Ireland and the United Kingdom’s membership of the EU and that it was preserved by Ireland opting out of the Schengen open border area in 1995.

However, they warn that if London wants to clamp down on inward migration in future, a harder border between Derry and Donegal will result, despite the CTA.

“If the UK were to tighten immigration controls it would also have to do so in particular at the Irish border,” they write.

The report also warns that a hard Brexit will “definitely make it necessary to control the movement of goods and services” and that “Ireland, at least, would have to introduce customs controls”. Even if London succeeds in negotiating a far-reaching free trade agreement with the EU “the origin of goods will still have to be verified” and “services supplied across the Irish border are especially liable to face restrictions”. Moreover, the movement of livestock and agricultural products “would certainly also require either a deep free trade agreement with mutual recognition or additional permits”.

Mr. von Ondarza and Ms. Becker’s paper cautions that the cross-border bodies established in 1998 will be weakened; EU peace and structural funding will dry up; and the peace process will be undermined, all as a result of Brexit.