November 30, 2017 / 9:07 PM / 16 days ago

No north-south Ireland border despite leaving customs union, British minister pledges

BERLIN (Reuters) - There will never again be a border dividing Northern Ireland and the republic, a British minister said days before a summit at which the Irish border issue threatens to derail Britain’s Brexit plans.

But in the interview with the Rheinische Post newspaper, international trade minister Greg Hands reaffirmed that Britain would quit the European Union’s customs union, a move most experts believe would lead to the reimposition of a border.

Currently, both parts of the island are members of the same customs union, meaning checks of goods crossing the border are unnecessary. If Britain left the customs union and no new checks were imposed, many experts warn it would create a back-door route to circumvent EU tariffs.

As part of its negotiations to quit the European Union, Britain must satisfy the bloc’s remaining 27 members that it has settled issues including its financial obligations, citizens’ rights and maintaining a low-friction border between the two parts of the divided island.

Failure to do so could bring a veto from any of the bloc’s member states, including the Republic of Ireland, preventing Britain from moving on to a discussion of its future relationship with its much larger neighbor.

“All sides, the Irish government, my government and the European Commission are committed to the peace deal that ended the Northern Ireland conflict,” Hands said. “There will never be a border between north and south.”

Extracts of the interview were published on Thursday.

He said he was confident that no veto would be cast at the mid-December summit.

The 1998 Good Friday peace agreement between Britain and the Republic of Ireland was the crucial step that brought to an end decades of violence in Northern Ireland, partly by offering extensive provisions to allow residents of the British province to maintain allegiance to both EU member states.

Reporting By Thomas Escritt; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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