Brexit Latest: Irish border row threatens to throw talks into chaos

How the Irish border is affected by Brexit will hang in the balance until trade is discussed, Liam Fox says.
How the Irish border is affected by Brexit will hang in the balance until trade is discussed, Liam Fox says.
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The row over the Irish border continues, with many concerned that delays could jeopardise the peace process and throw Brexit talks into chaos. The Tradefair team brings you the latest in UK politics...

“We have always had exceptions for Ireland. Whether it’s in our voting rights, our rights of residence in the UK, we have always accepted a certain asymmetry and that will have to be part of whatever agreement we come to with the European Union. But we can’t come to a final answer to the Irish question until we get an idea of the end state."

- Liam Fox, International Trade Secretary.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has said no talks will start on how Brexit will affect the Irish border until there is a trade plan in place between the UK and EU.

This has caused many top ministers, including those from the DUP, to raise concerns over what delays could mean for the landmark peace process.

Fox's concrete stance also comes despite multiple warnings from Brussels that trade talks wouldn't process without an agreement on the Irish border, as well as the controversial divorce bill settlement and EU citizens' rights.

Just a few days ago, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk said the UK still faces a "huge challenge" in moving Brexit negotiations towards trade and a transition period in December.

It appears as though talks are reaching another stalemate, as negotiations have already stalled over the matter of a financial settlement to allow the UK to withdraw from the EU.

Border needs "written guarantee"

The Irish border is seen as a key issue preventing trade talks from happening, because many top ministers want to avoid a hard border at all costs. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has even called for a "written guarantee" that it won't happen.

Varadkar and other key Irish figures are pushing for keeping Northern Ireland within the the single market and customs union when the UK leaves the EU to avoid future problems either side of the border. However, Fox has ruled this out completely.

Speaking to Sky News, he said: "We don't want there to be a hard border, but the UK is going to be leaving the customs union and the single market."

Fox said the UK had always managed to come to special arrangements with Ireland that could be written in the final agreement but called for further clarity about post-Brexit trade before the border question is resolved.

"We have always had exceptions for Ireland. Whether it's in our voting rights, our rights of residence in the UK, we have always accepted a certain asymmetry and that will have to be part of whatever agreement we come to with the European Union. But we can't come to a final answer to the Irish question until we get an idea of the end state," he said.

Has "sufficient progress" been made?

However, the EU has only asked for "sufficient progress" to made by the next European council summit in December, so Fox's stance doesn't necessarily clash with the EU's plan.

There remain questions on how strong the UK is, in comparison to the 27 member states it is going against. With problems in her own leadership and within her own party, Prime Minister Theresa May is struggling to embody the "strong and stable" mantra the Tories claim.

With the UK already having triggered Article 50, many are wondering what the EU has to lose by playing hard ball with negotiations. Britain, on the other hand, risks losing trade with the union and souring potential relationships with other nations if it is seen to be an untrustworthy nation.

Impact on the markets and investors

Northern Ireland may be stuck in limbo, but Republic of Ireland will still remain a part of the EU and therefore has the support of 27 other nations in its battle against a hard border. Ireland has already warned the UK that it will veto any move towards trade talks at the December summit if there's no further clarity on the border.

With many businesses in Ireland able to work across the border, it will be further reason to be wary of investing in the UK for the uncertainty it brings. The markets have proven their resilience since the referendum, with the pound bouncing back almost instantly after the initial shock.

However, the recent announcements about the UK's productivity could be enough to encourage investors to look elsewhere.


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