Feb 28, 2018 | 19:21 GMT

3 mins read

U.K.: Why the Irish Border Is Still an Issue

The Big Picture

Stratfor's 2018 Annual Forecast said that the United Kingdom would spend the majority of 2018 negotiating the terms of Brexit. The Irish border has continued to be one of the most controversial issues during negotiations, and recent developments in talks indicate that the issue will continue being debated for months to come.

Despite promises to the contrary, Brexit negotiations are still having trouble moving beyond the Irish issue. On Feb. 28, the European Commission released its first written draft of Brexit terms, but the plan's proposal for Northern Ireland to remain in the EU Customs Union is causing controversy. British Prime Minister Theresa May has already announced her opposition to the proposal, claiming that it would undermine the United Kingdom's territorial integrity. And Nigel Dodds, leader of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has also rejected the proposal.

But the proposal is still only a proposal, which means there's still time to discuss and alter it. The draft's wording needs to be approved by EU member states by the end of March, and only after that will the proposal be negotiated with the United Kingdom. The European Union is suggesting that Northern Ireland remain in the customs union, but that solution is considered a backup option if the United Kingdom presents no suitable solution of its own. However, British politicians have struggled to agree on a solution that would avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

May has ruled out the Labour Party proposal to enter into a customs union agreement with the European Union, insisting that the United Kingdom should be free to negotiate its own trade agreements separately from the bloc and that a customs union agreement with the European Union would go against the decision made by British citizens to leave the union. Some members of May's Conservative Party have attempted to convince her to change her position, but hard-line Brexiteers have applied competing pressure by arguing that the United Kingdom must be free to create its own trade deals.

If the United Kingdom refuses to remain in some form of customs union with the Continental bloc, a technological approach could provide a solution. But the United Kingdom has not put forward a proposal on how that could practically be achieved. Thus, the European Union has proposed that Northern Ireland should remain in the EU Customs Union. May and the hardline elements of her party appear to have determined that any part of the United Kingdom remaining in a customs union agreement with the European Union is politically unfeasible. However, until an alternative becomes technologically feasible, that places the United Kingdom and the European Union at an impasse.

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