There are “specific challenges” in allowing goods to move freely across the Irish border after Brexit, the British Ambassador to Ireland has admitted.
Robin Barnett suggested the current crossing between Northern Ireland and Ireland could only be maintained by a “bold and ambitious” free trade deal between London and Brussels.
Before a parliamentary committee in Dublin, the senior diplomat also said arrangements for any border poll on the reunification of the island are already provided for by the Good Friday Agreement.
“This is an international agreement to which we remain 100% committed,” he said.
Mr Barnett told the European Union Affairs committee that there were “specific challenges” to keeping the 310-mile Irish border as seamless and frictionless as possible.
“I think it is clear that the common travel area that pre-dates our membership of the EU and yours is the way forward in terms of ensuring free movement of people,” he told TDs (MPs) and senators on the committee.
“In terms of free movement of goods and related issues, there are challenges.
“We firmly believe the basis for an effective way forward is a bold and ambitious free trade agreement between the UK and the EU.”
Mr Barnett took issue with any suggestion such an agreement could not be forged during the allotted time for Brexit negotiations.
“For those who say that may be hard to achieve in the given timescale, I would respectfully observe that this is not about how to identify convergence, how to identify commons standards,” he said.
“We are already starting from a shared place. Therefore, many of the complications people adduce about concluding a free trade agreement are not appropriate in a situation where we start from a position of equivalence.”
Mr Barnett said the UK wanted a free trade agreement “greater in scope than anything before” as part of a future deal on security and economic co-operation that should be worked out at the same time as withdrawal conditions.
The ambassador told the committee there are British officials who are specifically focused on problems and issues in the relationship between the UK and Ireland as a result of its pull-out from the EU.
“I firmly believe that we will be able to achieve the deep and strong and special partnership with the EU that my Prime Minister has set out in the Article 50 letter,” he said.
“In this process, we are very mindful of the importance of our bilateral relationship with Ireland.
“We are actively engaged in looking at creative solutions to problems and challenges, although may I say that I think some of these creative solutions will not just come from governments but also from the talent that exists in our private sectors in Ireland and the UK.”