Brexit ministers has come no closer to overcoming the EU divorce’s most complex hurdle despite yesterday’s positive transition deal draft announcement.
Yesterday David Davis and Michel Barnier said much progress had been made towards a transition deal but admitted “more work” needed to be done on Ireland.
The island’s border will soon become the only land border between the EU and the UK but Prime Minister Theresa May and her Brexit ministers have been unable to explain how to balance this with an open border.
Negotiators on all sides are agreed a hard border with physical infrastructure must be avoided to avoid a return to the violence and bloodshed which scarred Northern Ireland and parts of the Republic for decades during the Troubles.
But if the UK – including Northern Ireland – leaves the single market and customs union, customs checks will be inevitable on goods passing between the north and south of the island.
Yesterday Jonathan Powell, a former Northern Ireland negotiator and the UK government’s former chief of staff, issued a stark warning to Mrs May.
He said Mrs May had “boxed herself in” and left no room for manoeuvre on the most complex and important part of Brexit negotiations.
He wrote in the Independent: “That is because there is no solution, at least not one that is acceptable to the coalition that keeps Theresa May in power.
“The Government has been negotiating with itself for the past two years rather than paying attention to the position and interests of its negotiating partner.”
He said Mrs May had, bizarrely, stuck to her dual promise to both keep the Irish border open and to pull Northern Ireland out of the single market and customs union – despite the fact one, by definition, precludes the other.
Mr Powell said: “She promised the Irish no hard border, she promised the DUP no border in the Irish Sea, she promised the Brexiteers we would leave the single market and the customs union and she promised the EU there would be full regulatory alignment between North and South for matters relating to ‘the all-island economy’.
“There is of course a reason why the British Government has not put forward practical proposals … despite having nearly two years in which to do so.
“It is because neither option can or will avoid a hard border.”
And he concluded his piece with the dire predicting the Irish border issue could end the Brexit negotiations without a deal.
He said Mrs May’s attempts to convince Ireland to delay negotiations on the issue would not work, with Dublin enjoying strong support from across the bloc.
Mr Powell said: “Indeed, her problems on Brexit may only just have begun and it may turn out that the insoluble problem of the Northern Ireland border is the issue that finally brings the entire negotiation crashing down.”