‘I was bold telling May where to put her border but it put it on agenda’

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Martina Anderson believes the EU will insist on a physical border within days if there is a ‘no deal’ Brexit in 11 weeks.

The Sinn Féin MEP has said the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has been nothing if not consistent.

“I have met with Michel Barnier more times now than I could count. Michel Barnier has been very clear with us: in the event of a crash-out Brexit there will be physical infrastructure on the island of Ireland.

“They will preserve, what they call, ‘the integrity of the single market.’ It will go up in weeks if not days,” said the Derry republican.

Ms. Anderson, who will return to Strasbourg in September as the fuse fizzles ever closer to the Brexit payload, insists that whether it’s Britain or Brussels that attempts to impose a border in Ireland, it simply won’t be accepted.

“Whatever about their trade deals this is something more precious. This is a peace process. I’ve told Michel Barnier that he needs to disabuse himself of the notion that what British soldiers, 35,000 of them, couldn’t do here blocking off roads, that they’ll somehow be able to do it,” she declared.

Civil Disobedience

The former IRA volunteer, who was recently reelected to the European Parliament where she has served since 2012 said the ongoing Brexit ‘shambles’, as she describes it, has seen Ireland and Britain drift into uncharted waters.

Any moves to reimpose a border - whatever side ultimately takes the blame for it - will be viewed as inflammatory and offensive, she maintains.

“I’ve talked to dentists, doctors, nurses and others, who have said, ‘We are not allowing our children, our grandchildren to be offended by this’.

“I do think, in terms of whether it’s civil disobedience or whatever that people will react. It’s offensive and will be offensive to anyone who is asked to produce their ID or passport.”

The EU taskforce that conducted the Article 50 negotiations with the UK is well-apprised of the red rag to a bull that a re-emergent border would represent.

“Even the PSNI, they have been on panels and they have spoken to Taskforce 50 and others and have explained to them that if you build this infrastructure, this post, to check the standards of trade going across into your single market, someone will come along and fire a stone. Then somebody will fire a brick and then before you know it you’ll need somebody in there to try and prevent this happening.

“And then somebody will come along and hit it with something more. And here we are back in a situation where you’ll be saying we have to put personnel in who are armed or whatever to protect our single market and we go back into a spiral that this place, this society doesn’t want to go to.”

Stick Your Border

Over the mandate of the last European Parliament Ms. Anderson was the chief Brexit negotiator for the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) group of MEPS in Brussels and Strasbourg, a role she still holds.

She has been an outspoken and unapologetic spokeswoman for Ireland’s cause ever since the people of the multinational kingdom that is the UK elected to leave the EU in a referendum three years ago.

Controversially, she took to her feet in Brussels in March 2017 and told the then British Prime Minister Theresa May to “stick [the border] where the sun doesn’t shine because you’re not putting it in Ireland.”

Ms. Anderson says her late mother Betty, who sadly died later that year at the age of 92, would not have approved of the language. But the speech made sure people in Europe knew Derry was in the cockpit of the Brexit battle.

“I know I was bold in the European Parliament, telling Theresa May where she could put her border.

“But what that did do was turn people’s heads as to why was this Irish woman in the European Parliament saying that to a British Prime Minister. I’ve said to people: ‘If my Mammy had been at herself, she had Alzheimer’s at the time, my mother would have done more than wag her finger at me.’

“But what it did do was bring international attention to this area. I was in TV studios, radio studios, being interviewed by journalists and people started to realise, you know, that ‘Houston, we have a problem.’ It’s called the Good Friday Agreement and it’s a peace process.”

EU Solidarity

A remarkable feature of the past three years has been the solidarity - to now anyway - among so many disparate political groupings on the Irish question.

Unusually, Sinn Féin have been singing in almost perfect harmony with the Fine Gael Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Tánaiste Simon Coveney on Brexit.

“We’ve kept their feet to the fire. Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill are in regular contact with them. They know there is €1.2billion worth of all-Ireland trade that is supporting 200,000 jobs on this island.

“They know Brexit is an unmitigated disaster for the island of Ireland. They know of the role Sinn Féin has played in the EU Parliament. They know I am the lead negotiator on Brexit for ‘the Left’ in the parliament. They know I have personally gone around hundreds and hundreds of MEPs and sat them down,” she observed.

Equally, European conservatives like Michel Barnier, an old French Gaulist, and Jean-Claude Juncker, a Christian Democrat from Luxembourg, have been at one with the ex-communists and left wingers of the GUE/NGL insofar as Ireland is concerned.

“I’ve had more conversations with people I would have nothing economically, socially or politically in common with but for Ireland I will talk, and have talked, to them all.

“I’ve gone right across the parliament. I don’t go to the far right. I don’t talk to Golden Dawn [far right Greek nationalists] nor will I go to the Brexit Party or UKIP. There’s no point.”

With the spectre of a hard border looming the Sinn Féin MEP believes a ready-made solution to the Brexit quandary bedevilling the people of Ireland, the European and British establishments, and even English nationalism, is at hand.

“If they are really serious about preserving the single market then they have to seriously engage with what they have already said to us in 2017: In the event of reunification the whole of Ireland will remain in the EU. They have a way of preserving the GFA and protecting the integrity of the single market -reunification.”