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Ireland shows caution at British reassurances over border after Brexit

Published 12/09/2016

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charles Flanagan said the border will be a key issue in the talks .
Minister for Foreign Affairs Charles Flanagan said the border will be a key issue in the talks .

Ireland is cautious of British reassurances there will be no hard or heavily militarised border on the island after Brexit, the Foreign Affairs Minister has warned.

On the eve of the UK's Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire's first official visit to Dublin, Charles Flanagan said the fate of the 310-mile frontier will be key during detailed talks in the capital on Tuesday.

The border between Northern Ireland and Ireland will also become an EU frontier after Britain leaves the bloc.

Dublin has insisted it must remain "invisible" after decades of work, as part of the peace process, to remove barriers between both jurisdictions.

Mr Brokenshire and UK Brexit minister David Davis have both voiced their backing for keeping an open border.

But Mr Flanagan has said he was "taken aback" by reports that British international trade secretary Liam Fox is pressurising UK Prime Minister Theresa May into leaving the EU customs union as well.

"There is an issue, of course, about the border," Mr Flanagan said.

"This is a matter of great concern to the communities, and public representatives, north and south.

"I was pleased to hear the comments of David Davis last week when he said that there would not be a hard border.

"I would however caution on two grounds: firstly I was somewhat concerned and taken aback by comments by the international trade secretary Liam Fox during the summer, when he suggested a withdrawal from the customs union.

"Now I fail to see how a withdrawal from the customs union can be compatible with an invisible border."

The European Union customs union is the biggest in the world and countries within it can trade more freely with each other, without tariffs, or taxes on imports.

If Britain were to leave the customs union as well, it would make it more complicated in maintaining a soft border in Ireland.

Mr Fox reportedly wants to leave the customs union to make it easier for Britain to strike new trade deals with non-EU countries after Brexit.

Mr Flanagan said his meeting with Mr Brokenshire in central Dublin will be detailed "on where we are in terms of Northern Ireland with particular reference to Brexit".

"I would also stress that ultimately the matter of the border is a decision that won't be determined by the UK and Irish governments, irrespective of how we feel about the issue, but this will be a matter for the remaining 27 EU countries, one of which of course will be Ireland," he added.

Mr Flanagan said he has met with all of his 27 EU foreign minister counterparts and has told them "we don't want a hard or heavily fortified border right across the island of Ireland."

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