Ireland will block Brexit talks unless border issue agreed

LONDON: Ireland’s EU commissioner said Dublin would “continue to play tough” over its threat to veto talks about trade after Brexit unless Britain provided guarantees over the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Phil Hogan, the EU’s agricultural commissioner, said that Britain, or Northern Ireland at least, should remain in the single market and the customs union to avoid a hard border dividing the island.
“If the UK or Northern Ireland remained in the EU customs union, or better still the single market, there would be no border issue,” he told the Observer newspaper on Sunday.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has said Britain will leave the single market and the customs unions after Brexit. Dublin wants a written guarantee that there will be no hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The European Union has said “sufficient progress” needs to be made on the Irish border, along with two other key issues, before EU leaders can approve the opening of trade talks in the new year at a summit on December 14-15.
Dublin and EU officials say the best way to avoid a “hard border” — which could include passport and customs controls — is to keep regulations the same north and south, but the Northern Irish party that is propping up May’s government will oppose any deal that sees the province operate under different regulations to the rest of the United kingdom.
“We will not support any arrangements that create barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom or any suggestion that Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK, will have to mirror European regulations,” the Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster said on Saturday.
Ruth Davidson, leader of the Conservatives in Scotland, said on Sunday that the Irish border was “one of the really difficult bits” of the negotiations.
Meanwhile, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar “is doing everything he can” to avoid a snap general election, his spokesman said. However, the crisis that has brought his minority government to the brink showed no obvious sign of resolution on Sunday.
Varadkar has two days to end the standoff with the party propping up his government before it submits a motion of no confidence in his deputy prime minister, a move that Varadkar says will force him to call a snap election before Christmas.
The crisis has erupted less than three weeks before a summit on Britain’s plans to leave the European Union, where Ireland will play a major role in deciding whether the negotiations can move onto the next phase. — Reuters