'No solution in sight' to thorny issue of post-Brexit border: legal expert
A lack of a post-Brexit plan to tackle the issues facing Northern Ireland and the border is a "major concern with no solution" in sight, a top legal expert has said.
The UK is due to leave the European Union at the end of March 2019. But just last week, the 27 other European countries refused to allow Brexit talks to progress to trade matters as not enough progress had been made in negotiations to date.
And yesterday, EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the UK shouldn't expect any tailor-made approach on trade in any future relationship.
Guy Lougher, head of the Brexit advisory unit at law firm Pinsent Masons, said the "Brexit Bill issue is thorny but solvable because it is ultimately just a question of money, so a solution is feasible".
"Bluntly, no solution has yet been identified which meets the practical and political needs of the EU, the UK, Ireland and Northern Ireland," he continued.
"This is a major problem and no solution is in sight, and that could have serious consequences not only for Brexit but for continued peace in Northern Ireland and harmony between the governments of the UK and Ireland."
This month, Foyle Port boss Brian McGrath said a "hard border and a hard Brexit ... would be catastrophic for the work that we do as it would effectively make us the most isolated UK port".
Mr Lougher added: "The political problems are about retaining Northern Ireland's status as part of the UK, but also recognising Ireland's need for the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland to be an open one without physical or legal barriers.
"The trade problems are about the movement of goods and people between the EU and the UK once laws diverge on issues such as employment and immigration rights, trading standards, agricultural regulation and quotas and tariffs on goods."
He said negotiators are faced with a number of possibilities, including the UK remaining in the customs union, and a second which would see a border created between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
"This would be politically unacceptable to unionists in Northern Ireland and would seriously risk destabilising the Good Friday Agreement and the peace that resulted from it," Mr Lougher continued. "The third practical option would be a soft border between Ireland and Northern Ireland where checks of goods would be conducted."
He said a more "fanciful" solution could include devising an "innovative and untested" system where companies in a supply chain "tracked goods and were aware of which complied with EU rules and which did not, and applied different tariffs to them and different export controls based on this factor".