Ex-Secretary of State for the North, Peter Hain, has warned the British government’s ‘cynical’ tactic of lumbering Brussels and Dublin with responsbility for any future hard border between Derry and Donegal is ‘a very dangerous game to play with the peace process’.
Mr. Hain, who was London’s man in Hillsborough when both the St. Andrews Agreement was brokered and Sinn Féin endorsed policing and justice for the first time, made the comments during a debate on Brexit and UK-Irish relations, in the British House of Lords on Tuesday.
The Labour peer was scathing of Brexit Minister David Davis’ recent position paper on Ireland, which proposed “no physical infrastructure at the border”.
Mr. Hain described London’s vision of a “frictionless border” as “nonsense on stilts”.
He claimed the government was attempting to punt responsibility for a more restrictive border likely to ensue in the wake of Brexit onto Dublin and Brussels.
“They are in effect saying to the EU, and Ireland in particular, ‘As part of the divorce settlement you can have the border. Do what you like with it. The Irish border will be your customs union frontier - you deal with it’.
“If the EU wants to know who or what is coming from outside the customs union into the EU through Northern Ireland, that is up to the EU, Ministers say. If that means a ‘hard’ border, that will be the EU’s fault, not ours. That is a very dangerous game to play with the peace process in Northern Ireland,” he said.
The veteran Labour figure suggested the notion that no new physical infrastructure will be required at new EU frontiers at Bridgend, Muff and Killea, was ridiculous.
“That means not just no border security posts but no CCTV cameras or number plate recognition equipment-none of the earlier-promised fairy-tale technology replacing customs officers.
“It is not so much a frictionless border as a telepathic one. Rather like the poor, ‘smugglers’ will always be with us, it would seem. This is less a solution to the problem than pie-in-the-sky fantasy.”
Mr. Hain said depictions of a “much-vaunted new free-trade nirvana”, with no Irish border controls, whereby “US chicken, New Zealand lamb, Australian beef, Chinese steel and Indian cars can be imported into Belfast, sent a couple of hours down the road to the ports of Dublin or Cork and exported tariff-free to France or Germany” was “nonsense on stilts”.
Sinn Féin MP for Foyle, Elisha McCallion, however, dismissed the deliberations in the House of Lords as “a detached and pointless sideshow which has no relevance to citizens in the North”.
“This British government with the support of the DUP has already shown their disregard for the impact of Brexit on the lives and livelihoods of the people of Ireland, north and south,” she said.
“They explicitly rejected protections for the Good Friday Agreement and are wedded to a delusional ‘frictionless’ border. The solution to the disastrous consequences of Brexit does not lie with hereditary peers in London.
“Special Designated Status within the EU is the only way to protect the democratic wishes of citizens in Ireland.”