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Brexit: Controls on Irish border inevitable, warns Bruton

By Noel McAdam

Checks on goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic will still have to happen - even if they are not exactly on the border, a former Taoiseach has warned.

John Bruton said even if a hard border was placed miles away, there would still need to be a system of checks between the post-Brexit UK side of the frontier and the EU.

His intervention came a week after a position paper made clear the UK Government did not envisage electronic or other mechanisms.

Mr Bruton is to examine the Republic's changing relationship with the UK in the aftermath of Brexit at the annual Daniel O'Connell summer school at Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, this weekend.

But in an interview ahead of his lecture, the former Fine Gael leader argued: "If the UK envisaged no controls at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, there would still have to be checks somewhere on goods coming into the European Union.

"Whether the hard border occurs at the border, or 10 or 15 or 50 miles either side of the border, you are still going to have to have a system to check whether goods entering the European Union in Ireland from the UK meet EU standards of safety, meet EU standards of rules of origin, and have paid… all the relevant EU tariffs, which in some cases are very high indeed."

Mr Bruton, who was Taoiseach from 1994 to 1997, called on the DUP to spell out in detail the kind of Brexit it wanted, particularly after a majority in Northern Ireland in last year's referendum voted to remain in the EU.

"I think Britain may come to the realisation that Brexit, as they sold it to themselves, isn't feasible," he said.

"But Britain itself would have to come to that conclusion."

Asked about the recent series of position papers from the UK Government, he argued: "They're not about substance, they're about procedure.

"The substance is what level of tariff you're going to charge, will Britain pursue a cheap food policy?"

The onus, he said, was on London to explain how it could reconcile its vision of tariff-free trade between the EU and Britain with World Trade Organisation rules, which state that any trade concessions offered to one trading partner have to be offered to all.

"Until Britain comes up with a way of explaining how their ideas on having access to the EU market can be reconciled with the most favoured nation principles of the WTO, it's very hard for us on the European side to do much work on this," he added.

Mr Bruton said, at its core, Brexit was being used to allow Britain to discover "a new identity. And that's a psychological process rather than an economic one. Britain has got to work out for itself who it wants to be".

He added: "If there are benefits from Brexit, (they) will possibly be concentrated in a small number of urban areas whereas the losses, which will be much, much greater, will be spread throughout the country."

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