U.K. to Rule Out Extending EU Customs Area to Northern Ireland After Brexit

By Jason Douglas Features Dow Jones Newswires

The U.K. will on Wednesday rule out extending the European Union's customs area to encircle Northern Ireland after Brexit, saying such a move wouldn't be "constitutionally or economically viable."

Continue Reading Below

In a formal position paper setting out London's principles for resolving the Irish border issue in negotiations with Brussels, the U.K. will say it doesn't want customs posts or other checks to disrupt the flow of people and goods that currently cross unimpeded between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The Department for Exiting the European Union said in a statement that the British government paper, due to be published later Wednesday, will argue for a sophisticated customs arrangement and the maintenance of a decades-old common travel area between Ireland and the U.K., which allows British and Irish citizens to move freely between the two nations.

None of the proposals outlined so far represents a surprise. But the position paper represents an effort to come to grips with a thorny issue in Brexit talks that both the U.K. and the EU have prioritized. Negotiations are due to resume later this month.

Northern Ireland's status as part of the U.K. means Ireland will be the only EU member state to share a land border with the U.K. once it leaves the EU in March 2019. That border has effectively dissolved, reflecting the two countries' EU membership, close ties and a 1998 peace settlement that brought an end to decades of bloody violence between Irish republicans who wish to see Ireland united and British loyalists who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the U.K.

London and Dublin are eager to prevent the re-emergence of a border on the island after Brexit, believing it may cause economic disruption and risks inflaming tensions between Northern Ireland's Irish and British communities. Absent a free-trade or customs deal with the EU, non-EU countries face tariffs and customs checks on exports to the bloc and many non-EU citizens face passport and visa checks.

Continue Reading Below

Establishing a new border around the island of Ireland and moving customs and passport checks to the U.K. mainland had been seen as one possible solution but always appeared unlikely to win British support, not least because Prime Minister Theresa May and her governing Conservative Party rely on the support of Northern Ireland's pro-U.K. Democratic Unionist Party to govern. The DUP opposes an Irish Sea border on the grounds it risks weakening Northern Ireland's ties to the rest of the U.K. and would hurt the region's small economy.

The U.K. will say Wednesday that it favors developing administrative and technological systems that permit businesses to operate freely across the border without imposing customs checks, such as exemptions from customs processes for small firms engaged in cross-border trade.

In a statement, the Irish government said it welcomed the U.K.'s suggestions and will examine them closely. Irish and EU officials have been skeptical about purely technological solutions to the border issue in the past.

Write to Jason Douglas at jason.douglas@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 15, 2017 20:47 ET (00:47 GMT)