British PM sparks fresh row on Irish partition after Brexit
BRITISH Prime Minister Theresa May sparked a new row yesterday over the future of Ireland’s partition border after Brexit.
She sought to allay republican fears in an article for Belfast-based daily Irish News before a Whitehall position paper is released.
She said she opposed a “physical border” between British-occupied Northern Ireland and the Republic, adding: “The UK does not want to see border posts for any purpose.”
She insisted rights enshrined under the Good Friday peace accord, such as the right to claim Irish citizenship, would be protected after the exit from the EU.
The government paper scotched speculation CCTV cameras and number plate recognition systems would be used to monitor cross-border traffic.
It has also proposed a future customs arrangement which would see 80 per cent of businesses on the island entirely exempt from any new tariffs.
The government said it was “confident” it could enforce renewed immigration controls on EU citizens through checks on the labour market and benefits system among others.
Sinn Fein and the SDLP oppose leaving the EU and have raised fears of an end to the 94-year-old bilateral Common Travel Area between Britain and Ireland and the imposition of a “hard border.”
They have also claimed Brexit — which Northern Ireland rejected 56-44 on a 63 per cent turnout — would jeopardise the Good Friday agreement.
Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill accused Westminster of using “our agreements, economy and rights as a bargaining chip with the EU.”
She demanded Britain abandon its “deluded, untested and unrealistic” customs union proposals and called on Dublin to argue for a special status for the six counties within the EU.
An Irish government spokesman welcomed the border proposals but warned the peace process “must not become a bargaining chip in the negotiations.”
Communist Party of Ireland chair Lynda Walker said the Good Friday Agreement was “just being used in a scaremongering manner.”
“No one wants a hard border,” she said. “When there was one it was the ‘Troubles’ — in other words the British government and British army — who closed the roads and set the checkpoints.
“Sectarianism is even more of a danger to the peace process.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “We are quite clear there must be no hard border — there never has been a hard, physical border but there have been controls and no-one wants to see a return to that, that will just damage the peace process.”