Q&A: Key questions on the border impasse that threatens to derail the Brexit process

The border remains the key stumbling block in the way of Brexit talks proceeding to the next stage. Here are answers to some of the key questions on the thorny impasse that threatens to derail the process.

Q. Why is the border so important to the negotiations?

After Brexit, it will become the UK’s only land border with an EU member state. How that frontier is managed is one of the three key issues the EU wants assurances on - along with citizens rights and the "divorce bill" - before allowing Brexit negotiations to proceed to phase two on future trading relations.

It is proving the most difficult of the trio to resolve, with economic and social factors mixing with potent historical and political considerations.

Q. What does the border look like now?

There are almost 300 crossings between north and south along what was, during the Troubles, a heavily-militarised 310-mile frontier. Those checkpoints are either gone or lying derelict today as traffic passes freely from north to south.

Q. Why are there such major concerns that Brexit would change that?

It could be argued that Brexit itself is not the cause of the sticking point, more the type of Brexit envisaged by the UK government.

If the UK left the EU but remained in the single market and customs union the border problem might not be so complex.

But the UK’s decision to leave Europe’s trading and free movement frameworks mean the border is set to become a crossing point between two different regulatory and economic zones.

This has prompted fears of a "hard border", with a return to check points - albeit for very different reasons to those erected during the Troubles.

There have been competing claims on whether such an outcome would undermine the extent of cross-border co-operation enshrined in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Some have even warned that a hardening of the border could reignite violence. Others have dismissed such dire predictions as dangerous scaremongering

Q. What does the EU want?

Brussels insists the retention of a "soft" border can only be achieved if either the whole of the UK, or just Northern Ireland, remain either within the single market and customs union, or some specially-tailored system that complies with EU regulations. This is the Dublin government’s preferred option and the EU has made clear that Ireland’s concerns are its concerns.

Q. Why is this such a problem for the UK?

The British Government’s very existence is dependent on its deal with the Democratic Unionists. While 56% of the population in Northern Ireland voted Remain, the DUP campaigned for Brexit and is set against anything that would see the region treated differently to the rest of the UK.

To do otherwise, it claims, would draw a border up the Irish Sea. The DUP has even accused the Irish government of pushing for regulatory alignment across the island as a backdoor bid to achieve a united Ireland.

Reports that No 10 was prepared to give ground and agree that Northern Ireland would continue to adhere to EU regulations post Brexit were met with an emphatic rejection by DUP leader Arlene Foster, in a statement that quickly snuffed out rumours of a Brexit breakthrough.

Q. So does the DUP hold all the cards?

Not quite. If its 10 MPs pulled put of their deal with the Tories, they would lose their new found influence at Westminster - endangering a linked £1 billion of Treasury funding for Northern Ireland - and face the prospect of what they characterise as the "pro Irish republican" Jeremy Corbyn becoming Labour prime minister after a snap general election.

Q. Are Mrs May’s problems confined to Northern Ireland.

No. The suggestion of a different regulatory regime for Northern Ireland prompted demands for the same from Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and London mayor Sadiq Khan.

- David Young, Press Association



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