Labour Seeking Law to Avoid Hard Irish Border After Brexit

(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is facing another Brexit hurdle after the opposition Labour Party announced it’s pushing for a legal commitment to avoid a hard border with Ireland after Britain leaves the European Union.

The party’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, on Sunday said Labour wants to enshrine in legislation what is currently only a pledge by the government to avoid buildings, customs posts and cameras at Northern Ireland’s border crossings.

The move adds to the challenges May must resolve as key Brexit bills struggle to make their way through Parliament.

Britain and the EU this month reached a provisional deal on the post-Brexit transition and both sides have signed off on significant parts of the withdrawal treaty. But the issue of how to keep the Irish border invisible looms large, with a series of talks on the subject scheduled for April.

Labour backs staying in a customs union with the EU, which it says would solve the border issue at a stroke. May, however, has ruled out such a step, with many Conservative lawmakers demanding that Britain makes a clean break with the EU.

Option C

Brexit Secretary David Davis said technological developments mean there is no question of returning “to the border of the past” even in the worst-case scenario.

“We will find an option C” if necessary, Davis said on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday. “There is a risk in trying to focus just on the downsides because the real likely outcome -- the overwhelmingly likely outcome -- is option A. Option A is that we get a free-trade agreement, we get a customs agreement. All of those make the Northern Ireland issue much, much easier to solve."

Among Tory lawmakers seeking a clean EU break next year is Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has criticized the transition deal, under which Britain will for the most part retain its existing relationship with the EU for 21 months after it ceases to be part of the bloc on March 29 next year.

In a speech on Thursday to mark one year to Brexit day, Rees-Mogg will say that Britain would face its biggest humiliation since the botched attempt to regain control over the Suez Canal in 1956 if it stays permanently tied to the EU after Brexit.

Suez Crisis

“What would that mean for this nation if we were not to leave, if we were to find a transition bound us back in,” he will say. “Well it would be Suez all over again. It would be the most almighty smash to the national psyche that could be imagined.”

There is now a growing movement in Britain to stop Brexit, a goal that has exposed divisions in the Labour Party. On Friday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn fired his Northern Ireland spokesman Owen Smith after he called for a second referendum on the EU.

Labour is seeking a meaningful vote in Parliament on the Brexit deal, not another public referendum, and Labour officials on Sunday defended Corbyn’s decision.

“Owen does know how collective responsibility works,” Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, told Marr. “I don’t think Jeremy had a choice but to ask him to stand down. He was right on that.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.