Brexit: Border Battle Line Spotlight


Brexit: Border Battle Line

Hard-hitting investigations. As the Brexit negotiations begin and the border tops the agenda, Jim Fitzpatrick travels to Brussels in search of answers.


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Transcript


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There's nothing particularly remarkable about this strip

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of road where Northern Ireland ends and the Republic begins.

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But this stretch of unremarkable land and hundreds of miles

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like it is about to become the most significant line on a map in Europe.

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I'm at the border and I'm waiting.

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I'm waiting for someone to turn up who holds the future of this

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border, and indeed perhaps, this whole island, in his hands.

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Michel Barnier is the EU's Chief Negotiator,

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the man leading the Brexit talks for Europe.

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He must try and settle the divorce terms with the UK on behalf

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of Ireland and the other 26 remaining members.

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I'm very happy and honoured to address both houses and to

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greet you, the representatives of the people of Ireland,

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in all your political diversity.

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That's why the Irish politicians want him to see with his own eyes

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what's on the line.

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Some might be concerned about the exports to the UK or by the

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return of custom checks at the border.

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Others might fear a return to the instability of the past.

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So, this is our VIP arrival.

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I already said many times,

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nothing in this negotiation should put peace at risk, that the

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Good Friday Agreement must be respected in all its dimensions.

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The point about bringing Michel Barnier here,

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and I understand he's been brought up by the

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Irish Foreign Minister, is to physically take him to the border,

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show him what it's like, so he can get a real impression

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of the Irish border.

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There's a lot at stake here for our people.

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As a lawyer who in a former life practised in many divorce cases,

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I can say from my experience, using that analogy,

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there's no such thing as an easy divorce.

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There's no such thing as a quickie divorce without consequences.

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And this border is where the consequences will be felt.

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There's nothing to see here and little to enjoy

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unless you're fond of diesel fumes.

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This dusty pit stop isn't on the tourist trail.

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That's what the politicians want to demonstrate.

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There's no border to see and that's the way they like it.

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I wanted to know if Mr Barnier had got their point.

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Mr Barnier, can you see the border? Can you see it?

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-So, it's invisible?

-It's invisible.

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Will it remain like that?

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He think so but he doesn't know.

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The man on his right,

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former Assistant Chief Constable in Northern Ireland, Peter Sheridan,

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knows what it was like before and can speak with some authority.

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He's pointing out some very real dangers, start with customs

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and you can quickly end up with army patrols and lookout towers.

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I catch up with Peter Sheridan later at a different border crossing.

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You are taking Mr Barnier around the border there in South Armagh,

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what were you telling him?

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Well, I suppose I was trying to make the point to him that we

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need to think beyond just customs,

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that the point for us here is that this border

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has been invisible for the last 20 years and if you make it

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visible again, does that become point of conflict again?

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How would it become a point of conflict?

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If you're only sticking up a couple of cameras,

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that's hardly high security.

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Well, that's true, but the history of this place is that...

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There's a perception that the conflict was about Catholic-Protestant.

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It wasn't, it was about identity.

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Some people saw their allegiance to the Republic of Ireland,

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some people saw their allegiance to Westminster.

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So the border became the point of conflict.

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When customs posts were here originally,

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the first shots were fired at customs officers.

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Then the police end up having to protect the customs officers.

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Then when they're attacked, soldiers ended up having to protect police

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officers and then we ended up having to build structures on the border.

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Nobody set out with that intention of a hard border in that regard,

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but that's the way it played out.

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One idea put forward by officials is to carry out checks away from

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the border.

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Dan Hannan, a Conservative MEP,

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played a leading role for Leave in the Brexit campaign.

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He thinks the checks could move to ports and airports.

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Remember, this is not the 19th century when we have

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uniformed customs offices with moustaches and epaulettes and so on,

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almost all of this is done in advance online.

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So what we mean when we talk about customs checks is

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a final verification that the paperwork is accurate.

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I think that can be much more accurately and easily carried

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out at the major freight terminals and ports where all the

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infrastructure is in place.

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This would effectively move the border from the land in

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Ireland to the sea between Ireland and Britain.

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It poses big problems for Unionists,

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for the UK to treat Ireland as one,

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yet the minister for Brexit wouldn't rule it out when challenged.

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You mentioned that you wanted to see no hard border between

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Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic,

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that's something which we share.

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But can you rule out that that will not be delivered by having

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the border controls between the island of Ireland and Great Britain?

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I don't know, Mr Wilson, at the moment. Let me...

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My view here is...

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I don't see that that will be the solution, to be honest.

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But what I don't want to do... The primary concern for me...

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The reason I'm hesitating is the primary concern for me

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is to make sure that we don't have that hard border, all right?

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And there are various technical ways of resolving that,

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we haven't finished that process.

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I can see the issue, absolutely see the issue,

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and I can see why that's a very second-best solution.

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I think we can find a better one but I won't make a promise today.

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I will make a point of writing to you when we've got further down

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-the road of the solution.

-OK.

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Brexit has put the border and Northern Ireland at the top

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of Europe's agenda.

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Some of the EU's most influential politicians,

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including the Brexit chief himself,

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gathered in Wicklow earlier this month.

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The star attraction of their conference was former

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Prime Minister Tony Blair.

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As one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement, I'm extremely

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anxious to make sure that Brexit does not impair that agreement.

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The agreement was born in the context of EU membership for

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both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

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We've never had a situation before where the Republic of Ireland

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and the UK have been in a different status from each

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other in respect of Europe.

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We've either both been out or both been in.

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Brexit has shifted the delicate balance of relationships.

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Europe always backed the UK and Ireland equally on Northern Ireland.

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But now, Europe's politicians are solely behind

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remaining member Ireland.

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Good afternoon.

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For Tony Blair,

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that's an uncomfortable position for Unionists.

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Has Brexit changed the dynamic in relation to a united Ireland?

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Look, a Northern Ireland politician could answer that better in a way.

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Look, I'll be frank with you, it did surprise me

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that there were elements of Unionism that would support Brexit.

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Were they shooting themselves in the foot?

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Well, I think if you analyse it,

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the benefit of the Good Friday Agreement

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and Britain being in Europe is that,

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as I say, it's not an issue because the

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Republic and the UK have the same status in respect of Europe. So...

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I find it surprising.

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I hope the UK is maintained, of course I do, but, you know,

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this is a debate that in the end will be settled in Northern Ireland.

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On the day she triggered the Brexit negotiations,

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the Prime Minister stressed the Union was safe.

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We have a preference that Northern Ireland should remain part

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of the United Kingdom and we will never be neutral in expressing our

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support for that.

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-MPS:

-Here, here.

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And that's because I believe fundamentally in the strength

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of our Union.

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But the debate has begun in earnest.

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Last month Europe put a united Ireland into the headlines by

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signalling automatic EU membership for Northern Ireland in the

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event of Irish unity.

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It was nicknamed the Kenny Clause after the Taoiseach

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who pushed for it.

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I think that's a significant legal statement from the European Council.

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Brexit has helped build a new bond between Ireland and Europe.

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We want to find a solution without rebuilding any kind of hard border.

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I want to protect and preserve the Good Friday process and agreement.

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But we have to find a solution that is also compatible

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with the single market.

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Solutions which might be different in Northern Ireland from the

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rest of the UK.

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It's the Good Friday Agreement which has made the difference.

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Northern Ireland is different because people here have an

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automatic right to Irish, that is European, citizenship.

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And this is the only part of the UK which can rejoin the EU without

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an application process if people here vote for a united Ireland.

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It's not just Europe that says this but the UK Government too.

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Brexit Minister David Davis confirmed this in a letter

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to Mark Durkan.

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-MARK DURKAN:

-It's because of the Good Friday Agreement.

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Of course, absolutely right.

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In some respects the British government did accept some of

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the premises on which Europe are now negotiating, because after all,

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David Davis wrote to me to accept certain things about the

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Good Friday Agreement that meant that Northern Ireland would be the

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only place in the UK that could actually rejoin the EU

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without needing a negotiation, unlike the UK as a whole,

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unlike any independent Scotland,

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he also accepted that we're different because of citizenship.

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This change means a vote for a united Ireland is also a vote

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to rejoin the EU and this appears to have reawakened Irish Nationalism.

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The day after the UK voted to leave the EU, Sinn Fein called for

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a vote to leave the UK.

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We're calling for a border poll, of course,

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because we're united-Irelanders.

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But we're also calling for a border poll because we want to

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continue with the improvements that have been made on the life of

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the people of this island.

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Fresh from its best Assembly election result, the party

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is now calling for that border poll to be held within five years.

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Sinn Fein says it hates Brexit,

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but it seems to love the consequences.

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Obviously, as Irish Republicans,

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we want to get to the stage where we achieve a united Ireland,

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but we want to design that new

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future and that new Ireland

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with all the people in this island, orange and green,

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so it has opened up a new political debate.

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We are in a new political era and that can only be a good thing.

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Unlike Sinn Fein, the Irish Government is dead against

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a border poll.

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It wants to take credit for a big shift on the Irish unity issue,

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but it certainly doesn't want it to happen now.

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Has Brexit changed the dynamic towards a united Ireland?

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I believe it has.

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But it's important that the letter and spirit of the

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Good Friday Agreement be fully subscribed to.

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Of course, the issue of a united Ireland and

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a border poll is fully covered within the Good Friday Agreement.

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I don't believe now is the time for a border poll, in fact,

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I think moves towards a border poll at this stage will give rise

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to serious dangers.

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Amidst growing talk of a united Ireland and border polls,

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the Prime Minister Theresa May paid a recent visit

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to the Balmoral Show,

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where the only local politician she met was the DUP leader.

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Hello.

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This is my son Ben who wanted to meet the Prime Minister very much.

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Very good to meet you, Ben.

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But I said we mightn't get a chance to do that. Everything going well?

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-Yes, thank you. Yes.

-Excellent.

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Theresa May says Brexit presents opportunities,

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though in Northern Ireland it was more the challenges of the

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border and trade that came to mind.

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I'm very clear that we want to see

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no return to the borders of the past, no hard border, and I'm clear

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that we need to see as seamless and frictionless a border as possible.

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But even an invisible border can have hard consequences if it

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causes problems for trade.

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This is us in the butchery department,

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generally our primal meat joints arrive in here.

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This agri-food boss, like Theresa May, didn't support Brexit,

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but now wants to make a success of it.

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But he says he urgently needs more detail from government at

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a local and national level.

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We're not quite sure whether the UK government has a plan and

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they're not telling us or whether they don't have a plan at all.

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My fear is that the plan doesn't exist.

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Are jobs at risk if we don't get this right?

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From Northern Ireland perspective, across many industries, but

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particularly the agri-food industry, jobs are potentially at stake.

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Like many agri-food businesses, Trevor Lockhart's an all-Ireland

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enterprise and he would like trade to continue unhindered after Brexit.

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Sinn Fein is pushing for what it calls designated special

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status for Northern Ireland.

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It would mean continued EU membership in all but name.

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Well, we do not want tea and sympathy,

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and the hundreds of MEPs that I have spoken to across Parliament have

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all got the case that we are making for designated special status.

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The DUP is strongly opposed to designated special status,

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but language is important, the party is still keen for

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a special deal that protects jobs and livelihoods.

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Well, I don't hear anywhere in Europe that there is such

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a thing as special status being considered, but there is

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mention of the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland.

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I hope that we can work together to actually agree something that

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is mutually beneficial.

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Despite the rhetoric, the parties may not be miles apart on Brexit,

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but with no Executive at Stormont, there is no agreed position.

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What's your top priority at the moment? Is Brexit number one?

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Absolutely. I am... It's all-consuming. Everything that I do.

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Well, if Brexit is so all-consuming and so important,

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then why not get back together in government at Stormont

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so you can put a unified case to Europe?

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We'd go back to Stormont in a heartbeat,

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but we're not going back to the status quo.

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So with Stormont currently out of business and unable to speak

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for Northern Ireland in Europe, business has taken the initiative.

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Trevor Lockhart and a number of colleagues are taking their

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concerns directly to Brussels where the decisions will be made.

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Gordon Best represents the construction sector,

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Conor Patterson from Newry speaks for border businesses.

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Well, you've got Gordon and Conor here, yourself,

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how many more are we meeting in Brussels?

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There should be, I think there's another three or four.

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They're joined in Brussels by Stephen Kelly who represents

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manufacturing in Northern Ireland,

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Allie Renison from the Institute of Directors

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and Jennifer McKeever

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and George Fleming from the Londonderry Chamber.

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They want solutions for the border problem, keenly felt in areas

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like the northwest.

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The thing about customs is that customs is about control and

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that means security and that means some way of policing

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and security measures and whether we're talking about trade or people

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crossing the borders,

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they do every day to go to work and to live their lives in the

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northwest, that's unimaginable, it would destroy our city.

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The delegation heads for a meeting with DUP MEP Diane Dodds to

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see if the local politicians are any closer to a deal.

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Many of you have mentioned Brexit, we need a plan, we need so on...

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I have been involved in the talks process.

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It was one of those areas where I think we were inching towards

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really good progress.

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..the same timeframe...

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They want an agreement that keeps Northern Ireland in the

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European Single Market with no border,

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but their host emphasises the importance of the UK market.

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It is important,

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access to the Single European Market is hugely important, but actually

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access to the UK single market is the thing that is absolutely vital.

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Ulster Unionist Jim Nicholson offers the group a welcome lunch,

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but with Brexit on the menu, there's a lot to digest.

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You're all very welcome.

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It's great to welcome you to the parliament and I hope you

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find it useful.

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But it's a very... I would...

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Well, it's interesting times but it's a very serious time as well.

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The group gets down to business.

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We're worried, we're concerned and we want to make sure we've a bit

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of skin in the game so we can help influence what the future looks out.

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Well, can I just say you're right to be worried?

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You're right to be concerned. What the outcome is, nobody knows.

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What the group wants are details of a border deal.

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All sides, the EU, the UK, the Irish Government,

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have said they want no hard border.

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Have you seen the blueprint?

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Oh, certainly not and I don't think it even exists yet because...

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..that is what will be decided, I think, almost at the very last

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in all the negotiations that are going to take place because that is

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the most difficult of the many difficult areas that have got

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to be dealt with in these Brexit negotiations, that will be,

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I believe, the most difficult of all.

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This is the centre of attraction for many visitors to Brussels,

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a key seat of power.

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Northern Ireland's three MEPs have been vocal on Brexit in Europe.

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Sinn Fein doesn't sit at Westminster,

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but its Northern Ireland MEP addressed the Prime Minister

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in colourful terms in the European Parliament.

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Let me put the record straight to everybody that's here,

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no border, hard or soft, will be accepted by the people of Ireland.

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What British armoured cars and tanks and guns couldn't

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do in Ireland, 27 member states will not be able to do.

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So, Theresa, your notion of a border, hard or soft, stick it

0:25:010:25:06

where the sun doesn't shine, because you're not putting it in Ireland.

0:25:060:25:11

Ulster Unionist Jim Nicholson warns Europe's Brexit negotiator

0:25:110:25:15

not to get too close to Dublin.

0:25:150:25:17

I hope you're listening, Mr Barnier...

0:25:170:25:19

I hope you're listening, Mr Barnier.

0:25:190:25:21

I want to make it very clear to you, not twiddling with your telephone

0:25:210:25:24

as you seem to be doing.

0:25:240:25:26

Dublin does not speak for Belfast.

0:25:260:25:29

And the DUP's Diane Dodds was mocked for supporting Brexit but

0:25:290:25:33

wanting a unique deal for Northern Ireland.

0:25:330:25:36

The European Union has an extremely important trading relationship

0:25:360:25:41

with the United Kingdom.

0:25:410:25:43

And agriculture is at the heart of this.

0:25:430:25:47

And just to say to Madam Dodds, well, my goodness,

0:25:470:25:52

you're lamenting the problem which is now arisen, yet you and

0:25:520:25:57

your political party advocated we leave the European Union.

0:25:570:26:01

Oh, dear, oh, dear, the sound of pennies beginning to drop.

0:26:010:26:05

There are two parts to any Brexit deal,

0:26:120:26:15

the first is the withdrawal agreement and that will take

0:26:150:26:19

two years. The second is future relationships and trade and

0:26:190:26:23

that could take up to ten.

0:26:230:26:26

The UK believes trade can also be sorted within the two-year process,

0:26:260:26:30

but Europe disagrees and has prioritised three things,

0:26:300:26:35

the divorce bill, the rights of citizens, and the Irish border.

0:26:350:26:39

The visitors from Northern Ireland want to know if that means

0:26:390:26:42

they'll see the shape of a deal any time soon.

0:26:420:26:45

Brian Hayes of the Irish Government party Fine Gael,

0:26:450:26:49

offers them an insider's briefing.

0:26:490:26:50

It's unlikely that you're going to get early agreement,

0:26:510:26:54

it's the nature of politics.

0:26:540:26:55

Nothing is agreed till everything is agreed.

0:26:550:26:57

What you'd said earlier there is that this border thing may be one

0:26:570:27:01

of the last things actually resolved.

0:27:010:27:03

And what we could potentially be facing right now is actually

0:27:030:27:07

being lost in very clear sight, so we're being placed up and we're

0:27:070:27:10

being one of the top three things that need to be resolved,

0:27:100:27:14

however, it may be one of the last things that's actually resolved.

0:27:140:27:17

The visitors leave Brussels pleased that Northern Ireland is one

0:27:170:27:21

of Europe's three priorities but concerned

0:27:210:27:24

details of a deal will have to wait.

0:27:240:27:26

Meanwhile, back home, the Brexit Minister challenges Europe's agenda

0:27:270:27:31

and disputes the plan to settle the border ahead of other issues.

0:27:310:27:36

And Northern Ireland, by the way,

0:27:360:27:38

how on earth do you resolve the border, the issue of the border

0:27:380:27:41

with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland unless

0:27:410:27:44

you know what our general borders policy is,

0:27:440:27:46

what the customs agreement is, what the free trade agreement is,

0:27:460:27:49

whether you need to charge tariffs at the border or not?

0:27:490:27:52

You can't decide one without the other. It's wholly illogical,

0:27:520:27:55

and we happen to think, the wrong interpretation of the treaty.

0:27:550:27:57

So, that will be the row of the summer.

0:27:570:27:59

So, it's only the change in tarmac which tells you where the border is.

0:28:050:28:09

Perhaps the Brexit Minister is right. After all, how do you sort

0:28:130:28:16

this border problem without looking at all other external border issues?

0:28:160:28:22

But as everyone acknowledges,

0:28:220:28:23

this border has its own particular explosive history, and by

0:28:230:28:28

questioning any early deal, has the minister just placed Northern

0:28:280:28:32

Ireland directly into the firing line between the UK and the EU?

0:28:320:28:37

I think first of all what he's trying to do is to use the

0:28:370:28:40

Good Friday Agreement as a sort of political human shield to

0:28:400:28:43

take them through the divorce negotiations.

0:28:430:28:46

By linking the border with any wider trade deal,

0:28:460:28:49

the government stands accused of using the peace process in

0:28:490:28:52

Northern Ireland as leverage to secure concessions from

0:28:520:28:56

Europe for the rest of the UK.

0:28:560:28:58

First, they don't want the questions of Ireland settled as part of

0:28:580:29:02

the first order issues that the EU 27 have set out and that the

0:29:020:29:06

Taoiseach was quite successful in having framed in that way.

0:29:060:29:11

And to use us as a political human shield to get through those

0:29:110:29:14

first negotiations and then in effect treat the Irish situation and

0:29:140:29:18

the Agreement as a hostage through the subsequent negotiations

0:29:180:29:21

on trade and the single market and the customs union,

0:29:210:29:25

I think is downright irresponsible.

0:29:250:29:27

There is an irony, according to Alliance's Stephen Farry, that

0:29:280:29:32

Brussels seems more attuned to Northern Ireland concerns

0:29:320:29:35

than Westminster.

0:29:350:29:37

We do have some very strong powerful friends across the European Union.

0:29:370:29:42

The level of attention of the UK Government in Northern Ireland

0:29:420:29:45

has been disappointing.

0:29:450:29:46

We haven't had the same level of engagement from the

0:29:460:29:48

UK Prime Minister in terms of understanding our position.

0:29:480:29:51

And there isn't, in particular,

0:29:510:29:53

the real understanding of the threat to the Good Friday Agreement

0:29:530:29:57

from the UK government, indeed, who are one of the core signatories.

0:29:570:30:02

Ireland is the country that could suffer most from Brexit which

0:30:020:30:05

explains the Irish Government's unprecedented charm offensive

0:30:050:30:09

with Europe.

0:30:090:30:10

But the border solution is beyond its control.

0:30:100:30:13

And with the UK and Europe unable even to agree a talks agenda,

0:30:150:30:19

the prospect of no deal, first mooted by the Prime Minister

0:30:190:30:23

in January, remains a real possibility.

0:30:230:30:25

While I am sure a positive agreement can be reached, I am equally

0:30:280:30:33

clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.

0:30:330:30:38

Thank you.

0:30:380:30:39

I'm very concerned when I hear British politicians and

0:30:410:30:45

political leaders speak in terms of no deal.

0:30:450:30:50

No deal would be catastrophic for the UK,

0:30:500:30:54

for Ireland and for the entire European Union.

0:30:540:30:56

But no deal rather than a bad deal is now

0:30:570:31:01

a Conservative manifesto pledge.

0:31:010:31:03

So even if a special deal awaits Northern Ireland in Europe,

0:31:030:31:07

it may never be implemented if the wider talks fail.

0:31:070:31:10

In that context, we would then default to

0:31:100:31:12

a very hard Brexit for Northern Ireland and indeed

0:31:120:31:15

Northern Ireland would be more adversely affected than any

0:31:150:31:17

other part of the UK and we would see it affect a hard border on

0:31:170:31:21

the island of Ireland and all of the political and economic

0:31:210:31:24

implications that arise from that.

0:31:240:31:27

Theresa May hasn't said what an acceptable deal would look like.

0:31:270:31:31

Questions were kept to a minimum on her recent Balmoral visit and

0:31:310:31:35

no Conservative minister, not even the Northern Ireland Secretary

0:31:350:31:39

James Brokenshire, would speak to Spotlight.

0:31:390:31:41

Others who fear the consequences cling to a remote hope that

0:31:440:31:48

Brexit might not happen.

0:31:480:31:49

Is Brexit inevitable?

0:31:500:31:53

Till we see the final terms, why make up our minds finally?

0:31:530:31:56

Does that mean we can change it? I have no idea.

0:31:560:32:00

But what I do know is anyone who goes into the detail of this

0:32:000:32:04

negotiation, and now we're going to be going into the detail,

0:32:040:32:07

the facts, right, they're going to find that there are many,

0:32:070:32:10

many challenges along the way and really tough choices for the UK.

0:32:100:32:14

But far from going soft on Brexit, supporters have hardened

0:32:160:32:19

their resolve in response to tough talk from Europe.

0:32:190:32:22

This attempt to interfere and bully, as they seem to be doing,

0:32:240:32:28

goes down very badly with people here. They've made a choice.

0:32:280:32:33

They made that choice last year

0:32:330:32:36

and we now have to implement that choice.

0:32:360:32:38

And the way to implement that choice is to get the best deal for

0:32:380:32:41

Northern Ireland.

0:32:410:32:43

And even in his Dail speech, Michel Barnier left

0:32:430:32:46

no room for doubt about the future relationship with the UK.

0:32:460:32:51

It's divorce.

0:32:510:32:52

I regret that Brexit is happening now.

0:32:520:32:56

I would have liked to have seen the UK staying in Europe with

0:32:560:33:00

Ireland and all the 26 other member states, but we are where we are.

0:33:000:33:07

Brexit is coming but what about Barnier's border?

0:33:100:33:15

It's not only the new EU-UK frontier,

0:33:150:33:18

it's the battle line for the bitter negotiations to come.

0:33:180:33:22

As the Brexit negotiations begin and the border tops the agenda, Jim Fitzpatrick travels to Brussels in search of answers.


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