While it is only now getting heavy coverage in the media in Great Britain, it has been clear to many of us for some time that one of the most challenging aspects of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union would be resolving the issue of keeping an open border between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.
With the Irish government being seen to be holding up Brexit talks until they feel the border issue has been adequately resolved, many have rightly criticised their approach thus far as being helpful.
However, remarks from some others on the border have been far more alarming, even dangerous.
The comments from Sinn Fein’s MP Chris Hazzard regarding ‘civil disobedience’ will only serve to unnecessarily whip up fears and tensions and do nothing to stabilise the situation.
I was interested to read former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern’s remarks earlier this week, which were more balanced.
He pointed out that Theresa May has consistently said she does not want a physical border, and should be taken at her word. He also stressed the need to work with the UK to find practical solutions to the border issue.
Similarly, former Foreign Secretary William Hague rightly criticised sabre-rattling from some quarters in the UK this week.
Calling for a calmer approach from all sides, he also said that while it may be the case that some in Great Britain are misunderstanding the Irish position, it is important for Dublin and Brussels to understand that an internal UK border is not only unacceptable to unionists across the UK, it would also have serious consequences for our economy.
Ahead of the December summit, when EU heads of government will decide whether to move to trade talks (which I believe they may well do), negotiators and EU leaders would do well to follow the more measured attitudes of Bertie Ahern and William Hague.
It is in everyone’s interests that we can agree a close relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
That will not be achieved by threats and grandstanding, nor by bowing to every demand from Brussels. Cool heads must prevail.
Jim Nicholson, Ulster Unionist MEP