EU’s Tusk warns of hard border in Ireland after Brexit

BRUSSELS: European Council President Donald Tusk warned Britain on Thursday that its plan to leave the EU’s customs union and single market on Brexit could mean a return to a “hard border” on the island of Ireland.
Addressing a business conference in Brussels before leaving for lunch in London with British Prime Minister Theresa May, the EU summit chair said an EU proposal on Wednesday to incorporate Northern Ireland within a “common regulatory area” with the EU was the best option to avoid border friction — but he would be asking in London if Britain could propose something better.
“Until now, no one has come up with anything wiser than that,” Tusk told the Business Europe event. “In a few hours, I will be asking London whether the UK government has another idea that will be as effective in preventing a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.”
Tusk also confirmed that he will distribute negotiating proposals next week for a future trade relationship with Britain. That will follow May’s expected announcement of her proposals on Friday.
But, Tusk warned, May’s “red lines” of leaving the single market and customs union meant that some friction in EU-UK trade would be inevitable.
“There can be no frictionless trade outside of the customs union and the single market. Friction is an inevitable side effect of Brexit, by nature,” he said.
Meanwhile, former British prime minister Tony Blair on Thursday urged the EU to embrace immigration reform to get the UK to change its mind on Brexit, saying there was still time to avoid a damaging withdrawal.
Blair, a leading voice against the UK’s decision to quit the bloc, said Britain could be persuaded to stay if concerns about migration and other issues were met, urging European leaders to take the initiative to “lead us out of the Brexit cul-de-sac”.
It is the second major Brexit intervention by a former prime minister in as many days after John Major said Britons should be given another chance to vote, arguing they were misled about the consequences of their June 2016 referendum.
Blair echoed the call for another vote, saying Britain should get “a final say on whatever deal is negotiated” and telling EU leaders they could sway the decision.
“Europe knows it needs reform. Reform in Europe is key to getting Britain to change its mind,” Blair said in a speech in Brussels.
Blair, prime minister from 1997 to 2007, said a “comprehensive plan on immigration control” would help sway opinion on Brexit and could also turn the tide of populism and dissatisfaction seen across Europe in recent years.
“If… Europe was to offer a parallel path to Brexit of Britain staying in a reforming Europe, that would throw open the debate to transformation,” he said.
“It doesn’t take a miracle. It takes leadership. And now is when we need it.” — Reuters/AFP