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Biting wind of Brexit deadline looms with Liechtenstein idea a non-starter

It's famous for banking and the production of false teeth. And if you were in form you could handily walk through Liechtenstein in an afternoon.

You're already forgiven if you need reminding about this pocket-sized principality of 160sq km with 37,000 people, crammed in between Austria and Switzerland. We mention it because it is cited as a model for the latest non-starter idea emanating from London as a proposed fix for the Northern Ireland border after Brexit.

It's 300 days from today to the witching hour of March 29, 2019, when Brexit happens. There is to be a transition period until December 31, 2020, when nothing much will change.

After that we just shudder to think. Even the more optimistic studies offer cold comfort.

Some of the asinine suggestions from the British Conservative Party's radical Brexiteers just remind us of their ignorance of all matters Irish.

There is no great hope in Dublin or Brussels that a breakthrough on the Irish border can happen at a crucial EU leaders' summit in Brussels on June 28 and 29. A draft deal was cut on December 8 last, involving a so-called backstop which would see Northern Ireland mimicking EU product and trade rules after Brexit.

But this was repudiated by Prime Minister Theresa May in February, when the EU produced a legal text.

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The DUP, propping up Mrs May's government, insist that Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as England, Scotland and Wales.

These profound DUP objections bring us neatly to the latest idea apparently floated by the British minister responsible for Brexit, David Davis.

Under this, Northern Ireland would have joint EU-UK status, and there would be a 16km "buffer zone" around the border to help traders and farmers by allowing them operate under Republic of Ireland trade rules.

The prime minister's suggestion of a new EU-UK customs partnership of some sort has been shot down by the radical Brexiteers. So there has been much debating around so-called "maximum facilitation" (shortened to "max fac") using technology to minimise border checks. This has been rightly dubbed a "cyber border" by Irish EU Commissioner Phil Hogan. In Dublin, it is rightly viewed as a border by any other name.

And this latest complex idea, complete with 16km buffer zone, is a dilution of that max fac school of thought. It comes on foot of security advice that high-tech border installations would be a magnet for sectarian attacks.

The reaction from British opposition politicians was nothing short of scathing and the response from the DUP was predictably dismissive.

The quiet signals in Dublin were equally negative.

John Downing is Political Correspondent of the Irish Independent

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