23:35 GMT +311 November 2019
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    A scrabble board spells out Brexit in Dublin, Ireland May 4 2016.

    Northern Ireland: Fresh Fears Over 'Hard Border' Amid Talk of 'Hard Brexit'

    © REUTERS / Clodagh Kilcoyne
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    There are fresh fears over the potential re-establishment of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland following Brexit, with Dublin's EU commissioner warning the Union would need to make concessions to avoid such an outcome.

    Following the UK's decision to vote to leave the EU last June, and British Prime Minister Theresa May's rhetoric on immigration, there has been increased speculation that physical border controls could be set up along the UK's only land border with the EU.

    Phil Hogan, the Irish EU Commissioner, said that in order to avoid a scenario where a hard border between Northern Ireland the southern Republic was re-established, the EU would need to make a special case and treat the whole island as a single unit, which would include the freedom of movement of people and goods across the border.

    ​While such support from the EU is far from guaranteed, Hogan said Brussels had "invested heavily" in the Irish peace process since the 1990s and would have a "vested interest" in maintaining it.

    "The European Commission has a vested interest in protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the success it has been in bringing peace to the island of Ireland since 1998," he told the Irish Independent newspaper.

    Hogan: London to Blame for Brexit Uncertainty

    Despite the apparent political goodwill in Dublin, Belfast, London and Brussels to avoid the return of a hard border, there have been concerns among some diplomats that Ireland has not done enough to win over the support of the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michael Barnier.

    However, Hogan says London is to blame for the uncertainty on the issue.

    Phil Hogan, the Irish EU Commissioner
    "Clearly, Brexit is a mess and getting messier," Hogan said.

    ​"It is very difficult for Ireland to act until they know the UK position, which must be revealed as soon as possible," he added, saying the recent departure of the UK's EU ambassador, Ivan Rogers, was a sign of Britain's Brexit disarray.

    "What they need handling negotiations is not people who believe in Brexit, but people who know the lie of the land in Brussels, and who appreciate the risks involved," he said.

    London has kept its cards close to its chest on the issue of Brexit, with British PM May not revealing what post-Brexit relationship the UK will seek with the bloc.

    ​Despite being tight-lipped, May's rhetoric and comments from other ministers suggest the government will seek to implement immigration controls, which many say will force Britain into a hard-Brexit.

    Some diplomats, such as Hogan, fear that such an approach would significantly increase the chances of a hard border being re-established.

    The government has pledged to invoke Article 50 by the end of March, which would then officially kick-off the two-year divorce process.   

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    Tags:
    hard border, Hard Brexit, Brexit, negotiations, immigration, UK Referendum, European Commission, European Union, Ivan Rogers, Phil Hogan, Theresa May, Europe, Britain, Northern Ireland, Ireland
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