British prime minister Theresa May will confirm her opposition on Friday to the creation of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She will reject the European Union proposal for there to be a ‘backstop’ which would see the north have a frictionless border with the Republic of Ireland.
In an uncompromising speech at Belfast Waterfront Hall, which is already causing observers to believe that she has capitulated to the hard Brexiteers in her party, she will say that “the economic and constitutional dislocation of a formal ‘third country’ customs border within our own country is something I will never accept and I believe no British prime minister could ever accept.”
“And as they made clear this week, it is not something the House of Commons will accept either.”
Because Northern Ireland shares a contiguous land border with the Republic, the key issue between the UK and the EU has been to formulate a manner in which trade can remain as frictionless as possible between the two nations: at present one can seamlessly drive between the two, as members of the EU.
Mrs May will claim that the proposal is in breach of the Belfast Agreement, and will leave the people of Northern Ireland without their own voice in trade negotiations – which would be destabilising for their economy.
“For all of us who care about our country, for all of us who want this Union of nations to thrive, that duty goes to the heart of what it means to be a United Kingdom and what it means to be a government.
“Our job is not to deal with Brexit in theory, but to make a success of it in practice for all of our people.”
The prime minister will claim that a hard border between the Republic and the North will be almost inconceivable and would inconvenience the thousands of people who cross and re-cross between the UK and Ireland every day or for firms whose supply and distribution chains span the border.
In the Chequers agreement reached earlier this month, and in the White Paper published last week, Mrs May says that the UK has developed its proposals for the future relationship on the island of Ireland, and it is “now for the EU to respond”.
“Not simply to fall back onto previous positions which have already been proven unworkable. But to evolve their position in kind. And, on that basis, I look forward to resuming constructive discussions.”
“We can negotiate a new relationship with the EU that works in our mutual interest. One that honours the referendum result, gives us control of our money, our borders, and our laws. One that sets us on course for a prosperous future, protecting jobs and boosting prosperity. One that safeguards our Union and allows the whole UK to thrive in the years ahead.
“A brighter future for Northern Ireland – where we restore devolution and come together again as a community to serve the interests of the people.
“I am passionate about that brighter future and the possibilities that are within our grasp. As I said on the day I launched my campaign to become leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party: ‘the process of withdrawal will be complex, and it will require hard work, serious work, and detailed work.”