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Here's what some Irish MEPs said when asked if there will be a hard border in Ireland

The Irish government and the EU says they’re not preparing for a hard border – here’s what three Irish MEPs think.

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A "no hard border" poster stands on the border with Northern Ireland.
Image: Peter Morrison

WE’RE JUST MONTHS away from Brexit, and the EU and Ireland have said publicly that there are no plans to have a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said at the launch of the Irish government’s no-deal Brexit plans that there were no plans to build a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, or plans for any customs checks; Taoiseach Leo Varadkar repeated these assertions the next day.

But the European Commission has suggested that there will need to be “simplified border controls” – such as documentation – on live animals and animal products travelling between the EU and the UK.

In case of no-deal, every consignment of live animals and animal products coming from the UK would have to undergo, as of the withdrawal date, checks in Union border inspection posts at the point of entry into the EU.

So which one will it be – here’s what three Irish MEPs think about the likelihood of a hard border, and other thoughts on the UK’s departure from the EU.

Do you think there will be infrastructure along the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland after 29 March?

Mairéad McGuinness: ”It is very important for Ireland that the UK Parliament – as well as the European Parliament – ratifies the Withdrawal Agreement. The Agreement provides an insurance policy in the form of the backstop for the border, but it is also a necessary precondition for negotiating the future relationship.

The Withdrawal Agreement settles the past – including citizens’ rights and financial obligations – so that we can move onto discussing the future in detail from April.
We want a close EU-UK relationship that avoids the need for a hard border – and the backstop provides an insurance policy and a strong incentive to negotiate a future relationship which will avoid the backstop coming into play and avoid a hard border.

“If a no deal scenario arises, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has repeatedly said that the Government will not place any physical infrastructure on the border.”

Martina Anderson: ”We do not want to see any infrastructure on the border or any hardening of the border. We do not want to see a border on the island of Ireland at all.

Partition was a disaster for Ireland and it will be compounded by Brexit.

“Sinn Féin has worked hard in Europe to ensure there will be no hardening of the border and made the issue centre stage in the Brexit negotiations.

“Businesses and the thousands of people who cross the border every day to work, study and socialise cannot be subjected to any return to a hard border. The backstop option agreed by the British government avoids the need for physical infrastructure on the border – it must be maintained.”

Brian Hayes: ”No, I don’t. Nobody either in Brussels, London or Dublin wants to see that. Anyway those who live along the border, on both sides, won’t put up with a new infrastructure, especially after the last 40 years.
Whatever is the outcome of Brexit, the integrity of the Single Market will have to be upheld. The current deal gives Northern Ireland the best of both worlds and a real opportunity to transform its economy in the time ahead. 

Do you think there will be additional customs checks at ports and airports between Northern Ireland and the UK?

Mairéad McGuinness: ”Under the Withdrawal Agreement, if the backstop had to kick in, there would be a single UK-EU customs territory. So there would not be any customs checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, as there are none today.

However, Northern Ireland would stay aligned on some EU rules necessary to avoiding a hard border. So regulatory checks – not customs checks – might be needed for goods travelling from the rest of the UK into Northern Ireland.
Some of these are already in place today, for example regarding animal health, but might need to be increased.

“That said, the backstop explicitly states both the UK and EU’s desire to avoid controls at the ports and airports of Northern Ireland. Provisions are made in the text to have checks instead take place in the market or on business premises, carried out by the UK authorities.

“There is also a provision to extend the transition period rather than having the backstop come into force – maintaining the status quo of all EU law continuing to apply across the UK for an extra year or two.”

Martina Anderson: Checks are already carried out at ports in the North for a range of goods coming from Britain, particularly agricultural goods. The backstop option which the British government has agreed to will see an intensification of these changes. This does not amount to a border in the Irish Sea as some have claimed.

Brian Hayes: ”Not in the short run.

It will depend on what the Brexit outcome is and if, for instance, the UK moved away significantly from the rules, regulations and country of origin obligations of the EU’s Single Market.

“But everyone should recognise, that the first thing both the UK and Irish Government agreed, notwithstanding their differences on the backstop, was the continuation of the Common Travel Area. It’s a really important guarantee to allow free movement between both islands. 

How much of a loss is the UK to the European Union?

Mairéad McGuinness: “In terms of the European Parliament, the many committed and hard working UK MEPs made a significant contribution to a whole range of legislative issues. I will miss many of them on a personal and professional level.

“The UK is a large member state which has made a significant contribution during its 40 years of membership.

For example, on the update of the medical devices regulation, which I was involved in, I experienced how the UK made invaluable contributions and UK experts provided a lot of input into developing a robust regime.

“The UK leaving will be a loss to the EU – but the UK will also lose out on the collaboration that the EU enables.”

Martina Anderson: “With Brexit, the people of the North will lose their voice in the European Parliament. They will have no say and no input into legislation.

“This is a fundamental right we will lose as a direct result of the Tory Brexit.”

Brian Hayes: “An enormous loss.

So much of the modern Single Market was designed by the UK. Big changes in how people use cheap air travel, how markets work with financial passporting or how Pan EU Procurement rules operate  – have their basis in the Single Market.
The UK was always trying to build up European trading links and reduce red tape. The UK was the only large member state looking for a genuinely global trading relationship with the world.

“The loss of their nett €13 billion contribution to the EU Budget is not fully appreciated at the moment especially as the next MFF will be negotiated next year. 60% of all capital market activity is run through the city of London. The loss to the EU will be massive around building a real capital markets union for the EU without the UK.”

Mairéad McGuinness is a Midlands-North-West MEP for Fine Gael and the Vice-President of the European Parliament. She’s also a member of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee and the Constitutional Affairs Committee.

Martina Anderson is a Sinn Féin MEP for Northern Ireland. She was convicted in 1986 of conspiring to cause explosions in England, and was released in November 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. In May 2007, Anderson became one of the first Sinn Féin members to join the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

Brian Hayes is a Fine Gael MEP who was Minister of State at the Department of Finance from 2011 until 2014, which is the year he was elected to the European Parliament. He’s a member of the European Parliament’s Economic & Monetary Affairs Committee, Development Committee and Budgetary Control Committee. In 2018 he announced that he would not contest the European elections that will be held this year.

Independent MEPs had been asked to give their views for this article, but hadn’t responded at the time of publication.

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