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Saturday 20

October, 2018 1:18 PM



Brexit: Northern Ireland's border explained

Brexit: Northern Ireland's border explained

The future of the border between Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland is a key sticking point in Britain's divorce negotiations with the European Union.

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08.06.2018 05:16 PM

The future of the border between Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland is a key sticking point in Britain's divorce negotiations with the European Union.

The essentially open frontier will become Britain's only land border with an EU state after it leaves the bloc in 2019. 

There are fears of a return to a "hard border", reminiscent of the military checkpoints of the 1970s and 1980s, that would interrupt the daily passage of thousands of people, animals and goods.

Here is some background:

Drawn nearly 100 years ago

The border was established in 1921 after the Irish island was split into a Catholic-majority Irish Free State -- which later became the Republic of Ireland -- and the smaller Protestant-majority Northern Ireland, which remained within the United Kingdom.

Around 500 kilometres (310 miles) long, it runs from Carlingford Lough inlet on the east coast to Lough Foyle estuary in the north.

People were allowed to cross the border freely although customs controls on goods were put in place.

The controls were removed when the EU's single market came into force in 1993, allowing the free movement of people, goods, services and capital throughout the bloc.

The best-known border towns -- Dundalk, on the Irish side, and Newry in Northern Ireland -- closely cooperate.

Farmland and villages, such as Pettigo-Tullyhummond, meanwhile straddle the frontier.

Targeted during The Troubles

Military infrastructure such as British army watchtowers were erected along the border from the 1970s during Northern Ireland's "Troubles", the conflict between Protestants and Catholics over British rule.

British troops guarding the border were regularly targeted in gun and bomb attacks by the Catholic paramilitary Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The infrastructure was dismantled following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which ended the conflict, in which more than 3,500 people died.

"Today, the border is largely invisible. Often, the only indication of crossing the border is the subtle difference in road markings, signs and speed limits," says the UK parliament website.

Workers, milk and lambs

Every year 110 million people cross the border, according to the parliament website.

The Centre for Cross Border Studies says 23,000 to 30,000 cross for work, most returning the same day.

People also move freely from one side to the other to shop, seek medical treatment or go to school.

In 2016 Northern Ireland's trade to Ireland came to £3.4 billion (3.8 billion euros, $4.5 billion) and involved 5,000 businesses, many in the agri-food sector.

Almost 400,000 lambs and 750 million litres of milk were exported to Ireland for processing, the parliament website says. In the opposite direction, 400,000 pigs were sent for processing in Northern Ireland.

There is a risk that when Britain leaves the EU, hefty World Trade Organization tariffs will apply to Northern Ireland exports. 

Avoiding a 'hard border'?

As members of the EU's single market and customs union, Britain and Ireland currently have no need for checks on travellers or goods.

All sides in the Brexit negotiations have pledged to avoid a "hard border" after Britain leaves those two institutions, but they have yet to agree how this would practically work.

The EU would still be required to impose its tariffs, food standards and safety regulations to products from Northern Ireland.

That includes on goods imported into Britain from outside the bloc, such as from China and the United States. In the absence of border checks, these could enter the giant EU market by the backdoor via Ireland without paying tariffs.

Britain and the EU are seeking a fall-back agreement where Northern Ireland, or the whole of Britain itself, would stay aligned to the bloc's customs arrangements until a solution were found.
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