A hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland could be inevitable if the UK leaves the EU’s Single Market, according to an influential Irish diplomat – while saying Leave voters in the EU referendum were “sold a pig in a poke”.
Speaking in an interview with the Irish Independent newspaper, Phil Hogan, the EU commissioner for agriculture and rural development, said: “Brexit is a mess and getting messier.”
Hogan hopes for the EU to grant a special exemption to avoid a “hard border” – with preservation of Northern Ireland’s peace process a major incentive.
The Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which brought peace to Northern Ireland, is based on both the UK and Ireland being members of the EU.
He also criticised the UK government for contradictory statements on continued membership of the customs union. On Sunday Prime Minister Theresa May suggested the UK could leave the Single Market, which has sent the pound to an eight-week low.
Minister for exiting the EU David Davis had previously hinted the government could continue to pay into the union – which could potentially allow the UK to keep Single Market membership
"That is a further example of serious disarray in London on the entire issue," said Hogan.
He was heavily critical of the campaign to leave the EU, implying that voters were conned by the Leave campaign.
Hogan said: "British voters were sold a pig in a poke on Brexit – nothing is as simple as it looks."
Hogan called for the British government to reveal its negotiating position “as soon as possible” to allow for Ireland to start planning the future relationship with the UK.
The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is the UK’s only land border with another EU nation. At present there are no border checks by customs or security officials, with both countries outside of the Schengen area of border-free travel.
However, there are fears in some quarters – including a report by the House of Lords EU committee – that relations could be harmed if checks are re-introduced.