May's government can't have it both ways forever—and this week’s announcement on the Customs Union appears to be a clear contradiction of its previous pledge about the Irish borderby Siobhán Fenton / February 5, 2018 / Leave a comment
After months of offering little more than vague platitudes and contradictory statements about what the UK’s Brexit policy is, the British government has made an uncharacteristically clear decision about what it wants from EU withdrawal: the UK is leaving the customs union. In a statement, a Downing Street spokesperson has declared that this is now definite.
The statement represents a rare crumb of clarity in a negotiations process which has been marked by the UK government’s resistance to explaining what positions it holds on key Brexit issues.
However, the announcement will bring little relief for anyone with any grasp of the impact for the Northern Ireland border. Instead, it has exposed the contradictory stance the UK has long held on the border and which it appears unwilling or incapable of resolving.
Few in Northern Ireland want to see a return to the border checkpoints between the region and the Republic of Ireland, which were in place during the Troubles conflict but which have been dismantled as part of the hard-won peace process.
Beyond the logistical inconvenience of tail backs and delays necessitated by checkpoints, border infrastructure represents a physical manifestation of partition on the island and so is imbued with much wider political and psychological impact for those who live along it.
All sides of the Brexit negotiations appear to understand and accept this and have each declared their desire to see no hard border on the island of Ireland as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The UK has also publicly supported this position.