From The Irish News, March 16h, 2018
Written by John Manley
AN influential group of MPs – which includes three DUP representatives – have criticised the British government for its failure to come up with solutions for keeping the Irish border free-flowing after Brexit. In a report published today, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee calls on Theresa May's government to spell out how the border will remain frictionless – adding that the current proposals are inadequate.
Asking how the UK’s decision to leave the EU single market and Customs Union can be reconciled with avoiding a hard border, the MPs conclude that there is no infrastructure-free frontier anywhere in the world operating in the manner currently envisaged by the British government.
The committee found that any additional infrastructure at the border would not only be "politically objectional but highly ineffective and unworkable" and they say there is not adequate time to implement a "new non-visible customs regime" before next year's withdrawal date.
However, the MPs also reject any proposals for customs checks that would create a "border down the Irish Sea", as they say it would impede trade with the north's largest external market, as well as being "incompatible with the spirit and intent of the Good Friday Agreement".
The committee – which includes DUP MPs Gregory Campbell, Ian Paisley and Jim Shannon – said leaving the EU without a deal would have "very negative consequences for avoiding a hard border" and they welcome commitments that this would not happen.
The MPs also found:
:: The British government should set out in detail how it proposes to manage immigration through internal controls, including whether there will be increased documentary checks to determine entitlement for residency and to access public services;
:: Ministers should clarify how the Common Travel Area (CTA) protects the special status of British and Irish citizens in each other's countries and potentially create new legal safeguards;
:: The UK government should detail its proposals for cross-border projects such as the Peace programme which supports community development.
Committee chairman Andrew Murrison told The Irish News that the MPs believed that the success of Brexit "hinges on Irish border".
The Tory MP and Brexiteer said the committee had agreed that the border "must look pretty much as it does today".
"We want boring border," he said.
The committee chairman welcomed a transition period beginning next March ahead of a full Brexit.
"I'm relieved that there will be a transition period because we need it, and during that transition period we will need a high degree of regulatory and tariff convergence based on an agreement with the EU, which is necessary under WTO rules," he said.
"I hope in the fullness of time we will perhaps have a solution that goes beyond that but we haven't been able to find that up to this point."
Labour MP and committee member John Grogan said all the evidence indicated that leaving the single market and Customs Union while avoiding a hard border "may well be incompatible".
The MP for Keighley advocates staying in the Customs Union and single market "indefinitely" rather than just for the implementation.
"It is surely time for ministers to spell out exactly how they are going to avoid a hard border," he said.
"Vague talk of the use of technology and ‘trusted traders’ simply won’t cut the mustard, a year away from our leaving date."
There was no comment from the DUP last night on the contents of the report.