‘Hardline republicans will gain traction if there’s a Brexit border’

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The European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee has been warned the re-erection of a ‘visible border’ in Derry will become inevitable if the UK and EU fail to reach a post-Brexit trade deal and that the sights of republican groups opposed to the peace process will be trained on any such frontier.

Lawyer Dr. John Temple, an Adjunct Professor at Trinity College, Dublin, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow, at Oxford, in a study commissioned by the committee, has warned that if there is no trade deal by March 2019, a hard border, however, unwelcome, becomes inevitable.

Dr. Temple believes an obstructive North/South divide would be demanded by the EU lest the UK adopt a cheap food policy and lower its health and safety standards in future.

“A ‘visible’ border between the two parts of Ireland will certainly be unavoidable, however politically unwelcome it may be, if there is no trade agreement between the EU and the UK, if the UK adopts a cheap food policy, or if the UK lowers phytosanitary standards or other quality standards for agricultural or industrial products,” warns Dr. Temple.

“If an economic border is needed for any of these reasons, it cannot be avoided by electronic surveillance methods. Since it seems likely that the UK will wish to be free to choose its future policies in these respects, a ‘visible’ border will come into existence unless the UK is willing to adopt a free trade area solution, such as the European Economic Area or something like it, at least for Northern Ireland,” he adds.

The imposition of this ‘visible’ border could potentially undo years of painstaking normalistion and peace-building in Ireland, Dr. Temple has suggested.

“If...an ‘invisible’ border is not satisfactory, two entirely different conclusions might be drawn. The first possible conclusion is that a traditional border with customs posts and physical checks should be re-established.

“That would be directly contrary to what has been said consistently by the EU, the UK, and the government of the Republic of Ireland.

“If such a border were established, a long-lasting source of potential violence and tension would be established in a region not lacking in such sources. Politically this conclusion should be excluded,” he argues.

Meanwhile, a separate new report by Dr. David Phinnemore and Dr. Katy Hayward of, Queen’s University, Belfast, has warned that the Good Friday Agreement must not undermined by Brexit.

They write: “In addition to the conditions of polarization and stalemate at the level of Northern Ireland politics, there are two other direct concerns for the stability of the peace process.

“The first is that uncertainty regarding the future status of the border and lack of a functioning powersharing institution - not to mention the fact that Northern Ireland’s majority ‘Remain’ vote has been overridden by the UK-wide majority - serve to create the conditions in which dissident republicanism can gain traction.

“On the other side, spurred in part by talk of a border poll and thus the prospect of change to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, some loyalists have also expressed a determination to ensure that there is no weakening of the UK, including a willingness to use violence to ‘defend’ the union.

“The UK government has to date acknowledged the challenge posed by the still-existing paramilitary groups on both sides in two ways, both of which centre on the question of the future border.

“The first is to state repeatedly that there will be no physical infrastructure for controls at the border (not least because such infrastructures will be a target for as well as an affront to hardline republicans).

“The second is to assert that there will be no weakening of the constitutional or economic integrity of the UK by putting barriers within the UK.”

Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson said political will is required from all of those who have said they want to protect the Good Friday Agreement during the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

She said the newly publsihed Phinnemore/Hayward report should be essential reading for David Davis and Michel Barnier.

“It recognises that our membership of the EU was key to securing the Good Friday Agreement and that the Agreement must be protected, with no diminution of citizens rights.

“Throughout this report it recognises the need for a unique or special solution for the north with its references to a ‘differentiated approach’ and ‘differentiated treatment’ for the north.

“This shows that there is growing support for and acceptance of the need for the north to secure special status within the EU,” said the local MEP.