The United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union will not result in a “hard border” between the Republic and Northern Ireland, either on land or sea. That was a key part of the message from Karen Bradley, the Noran pressure to eliminate any “back door” trade into the North once Brexit goes into full effect.
“We are absolutely committed to no new physical infrastructure at the border and no related checks and controls,” Bradley, 48, said during a sit-down interview with the Reporter at the British consul’s residence on Beacon Hill on Sept. 26. “People in Northern Ireland will still enjoy the benefits of the common travel area.”
Bradley stressed that the UK government “will not accept a deal that sees either the results of the [Brexit] referendum not being respected or a break-up in the economic and constitutional integrity of the UK,” something that she said existing EU proposals for accommodating their withdrawal would do.
“Therefore,” Bradley added, “no deal is preferable to either of those. Even in a no deal situation we are adamant and determined that there will no hard border on the island of Ireland.”
During her time in Boston, Bradley met with business leaders and Irish American “influencers” during a Sept. 25 evening forum sponsored by the Global Leadership Institute at Boston College.
“There are so many influencers here in Boston,” she said. “So, there’s people who have influence over politicians in Northern Ireland. I am determined that we will get devolved government back in Stormont. That is the only way that you can provide any form of governance that works in Northern Ireland. And I’m also determined that we will solve the Brexit conundrums that people keep putting forward and our commitment to everything set out in the Belfast Good Friday agreement and our commitment to delivering on that in the context of Brexit. I’m here to talk to those influencers, make clear that the UK’s government’s position and, [to] get them influencing.”
The question of how the UK can possibly extricate itself from the EU without some form of disruption along the 300-mile border between the North and the Republic is an unresolved question and one that Bradley, a Tory and a full-throated Brexit supporter, insists will not come to pass.
“Change creates uncertainty and people are uncomfortable with uncertainty. But I repeat our absolute commitment to achieving the commitments we’ve made. We are leaving the European Union. We are going to take back control of our laws, our borders, and our money. We, additionally, are going to have the ability to have an independent trade policy. When I speak to US influencers, they find it extraordinary that the world’s fifth biggest economy has outsourced its trade policy to a bueracratic institution in Brussels for the last 40-odd years. But we have. And we’re not going to do that anymore.”
Bradley said that the May government is “now waiting for the Eurpoeans to tell us what they’re not happy with” in the May government’s plan for preserving the existing border conditions. She described existing relations with the Irish government as “very good on a bilateral basis.”
“We may be leaving the European Union, but we’re not leaving Europe, we’re not leaving our friends,” she said. “The Irish are one of our closest friends and our economies are inextricably linked because we share land, we share a land border.”
Beyond the Brexit border “conundrum,” Bradley faces perhaps an even more intractable and immediate problem: a Northern Ireland Assembly that has been mired in impasse since Jan. 2017 with the two major parties at loggerheads.
On this issue, Bradley offers no great reassurance and no timetable for a possible breakthrough.
“We need to find a way to get to accommodation,” she said. “There is no alternative to power sharing, there is no alternative to devolved government.
“It’s not acceptable. The people of Northern Ireland deserve better. To be in a position where you take the record for being the longest time without a functioning government is not something to be proud of. I am determined that we will resolve this situation as soon as we possibly can.”
Still, she acknowledged: “The UK government may be the sovereign government in Northern Ireland…. But we cannot impose a solution. This has to be a solution that comes from the people of NI and the politicians of NI and that’s what we all want to see.”
Gary J. Kerr, a Belfast native who lives and works in Boston, said that Bradley’s public statements— particularly on the border question— have demonstrated a troubling level of ignorance to the history of the Troubles and the political divisions that remain.
“The biggest risk is: does she even understand the importance of her position. She is the one person who has the power to call a border poll,” said Kerr, referring to a referendum that could lead to a united Ireland.
“My parents thought they’d never live to see a United Ireland. Now they think it’s possible. And I will absolutely. We’ve never been closer to it. And it’s all to do with Brexit.”
Bill Forry may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org