DUBLIN (Reuters) – A senior member of the Northern Irish unionist party propping up British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government warned on Friday that a hardening of Dublin’s position on Brexit risked “a very hard border” returning to the island.
The border between the Irish Republic, a member of the European Union, and the British province of Northern Ireland will be the only land frontier between the United Kingdom and the EU once Britain leaves the bloc in early 2019.
Politicians in London, Dublin, Belfast and Brussels have all said they want to avoid the return of a “hard border” but Ian Paisley Jr of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) warned of exactly that when he reacted strongly to a report that Dublin wanted the Irish Sea to effectively be the post-Brexit border.
“1 of 2 things will now happen 1. A very hard border 2. Ireland will wise up and leave the EU,” Paisley Jr, a member of the British parliament, said on Twitter, linking to the report in the Times newspaper.
The report said the Irish government’s preferred option for customs and immigration checks to be located away from the land border and at ports and airports instead would effectively draw a new border in the Irish sea.
Officials from the Irish government agency responsible for customs checks said in May that such checks 10-15 kilometers from the frontier were being considered and then Irish finance minister Michael Noonan raised the possibility of control points at airports and ports over a year ago.
Such a scenario would be unacceptable to the eurosceptic DUP which was the only major Northern Irish party to campaign for Brexit and which wants to boost the union with Britain in the face of calls by Northern Irish nationalists to unite both sides of the Irish border.
The Times also quoted a British government source as saying Dublin’s attitude on Brexit had hardened since the election last month of Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and his appointment of Simon Coveney as the country’s new foreign minister.
Coveney said last month that Britain and Ireland could not pretend that they can solve the border problem through technical solutions like cameras, while other ministers have become more vocal about the slow progress in talks so far with one calling the British position politically incoherent.
Varadkar also said last month that even with all the goodwill, it would be practically and legally extremely difficult to find ways to maintain the open border.
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Nick Macfie