Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland peace 'cannot be Brexit talks bargaining chip'

Peace in Northern Ireland cannot be a bargaining chip in Brexit negotiations, the Irish Government has warned.

As Britain stated that its number one priority was keeping the Irish border free of checkpoints, leaders in Dublin said that avoiding a return to the paramilitary violence and terrorism of the past is crucial.

"The emphasis on the priority areas identified by the Government, including the Common Travel Area, the Good Friday Agreement, north/south cooperation and avoiding a hard border, is welcome," an Irish Government spokesman said.

"Protecting the peace process is crucial and it must not become a bargaining chip in the negotiations."

The policy paper on the border between Ireland and the UK dismissed the possibility of shifting checks and tariffs to the Irish Sea.

The document also stated that a so-called "hard border", with physical infrastructure or checkpoints on roads and rail linking the Republic and Northern Ireland, should also be avoided.

The Irish Government said the paper from London's Department for Exiting the European Union i s "timely and helpful" as it offers more clarity.

It said it would analyse the ideas on the border and customs in detail and discuss them with the European Commission and Brussels chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

"The immediate focus for the coming rounds of negotiations remains on advancing the issues identified for phase one of the negotiations, including citizens' rights and the financial settlement, as well as issues specific to Ireland," the Government spokesman said.

"The Government remains hopeful that there will be sufficient progress on these issues to allow the necessary parallel discussions on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, including in relation to customs, to commence."

Senator Mark Daly, Fianna Fail deputy group leader, welcomed efforts to avoid a hard border but warned the move could risk creating a "smuggler's charter".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There are trade differentials between the UK and other non-European powers, offering a back door to Europe so people would import goods that are cheaper under tariff arrangements with the UK and then bring them into the Republic and on into the EU.

"Of course the UK want an advantage economically over the EU and will do preferential trade agreements with non-EU countries and, you know, that becomes a smuggler's charter on this island.

"We already have a smuggling problem while both jurisdictions are in the EU."

Arrangements already in place in countries such as Norway and Sweden would not work in Ireland as customs officers would need to cross the border, he said.

He said: "We all agree with the idea of a seamless and frictionless border, it's the practicalities, and you quite rightly say that Norwegian model is a great idea, but when you go to practicalities of it, would that work in reality? I don't believe so."

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