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'Brexit will create hard border in Ireland' - stark warning to MPs from academics

Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

There will be a hard border dividing Northern Ireland and the Republic if the UK leaves the Customs Union after Brexit, a group of academics has told the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee.

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However, they said that to have as "seamless a border as possible" the EU would need to drop its determination the UK agrees its separation terms first before future trade deal discussions can begin.

"If we had a baseline, and this is absolutely critical, you need a baseline of a comprehensive free trade agreement between the UK and EU that is essential," Dr Katy Hayward, lecturer in sociology at Queen's University Belfast told the committee.

Stressing there was a difference between the movement of goods and people, Dr Hayward said the UK needed to be flexible in its approach to the issue on giving Northern Ireland special status but that it could not be a "backdoor for the UK to the single market and customs union".

"There is an option," she continued, "and it is that flexible and imaginative solution that would require differentiating within the United Kingdom.

"That would require special arrangement of some sort for Northern Ireland and the EU remarkably is saying it willing to accept this in order to avoid excessive friction in the island of ireland.

"And one way is for Northern Ireland to remain in the customs union, or have a customs union with the Republic."

There will be a border.. and it will have to be crossed.

Dr Sylvia de Mars, Lecturer in Law, Newcastle Law School described as "a bit misleading" to say there would be no infrastructure along a post-Brexit border.

She said it was "problematic" the EU was insisting the Irish border question needed to be settled before trade talks could begin.

"They are clearly connected," she said.

"It is difficult to see how a regime can apply only in Northern Ireland could have no impact on what happened in the rest of the UK regarding a future trade relationship unless specific arrangements [were in place]."

She added: "To talk of physical infrastructure is a distraction. The rules will be different in Northern Ireland. We will have a hard border and it will have to be passed."

You can leave the customs union or you can have a frictionless border... there is no option for both.

Paul MacFlynn, senior economist with the Nevin Economic Research Institute said "any unique solution for Northern Ireland is not appropriate given the level of trade between Northern Ireland and Britain".

"To in some way make a special deal for Northern Ireland, to in some way prioritise trade with the Republic or the rest of Europe - is not going to make sense in terms of trade volumes," he said.

"If the UK Government position continues to be withdrawal from the customs union and does not seek to form another customs union on same basis with the EU following its exit then Northern Ireland will be a third country and as the revenue commission report from the Republic highlights, from their point of view for their existing obligations that will become a customs frontier.

"You can leave the customs union or you can have a frictionless border in Northern Ireland - tick one box - there is no option for both."

He added: "I'm all for flexible and imaginative solutions but not illusory ones."

Prime Minister Theresa May again insisted on Wednesday the UK would leave both the single market and customs union.

During Prime Minister's questions she said her government, during the transition period, would look to get an agreement on the same basis sa is currently operated, "with the same rules and regulations.

"That is not the same as full membership of single market and customs union," she said.

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