During the Brexit referendum campaign it was the future of the EU's border with Turkey that got all the attention, not the UK's frontier with Ireland.
Yet, as time ticks down to Brexit day on March 29, the Irish border question is dominating debate and holding up the ratification of the withdrawal agreement.
The UK doesn’t want a hard border. Ireland doesn’t want a hard border. The EU doesn’t want a hard border. You would be forgiven for wondering who is actually going to build it in the case of a ‘no deal’ exit.
On Tuesday, it seemed like Brussels was finally prepared to say the unsayable, and admit that in order to protect the integrity of the Single Market and customs union, there would need to be a hard border on the crossing if the UK leaves without a deal.
“If you'd like to push me and speculate on what might happen in a no-deal scenario in Ireland,” European Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas told journalists, “I think it's pretty obvious: you will have a hard border.”
A day later, and it seems the EU had gone into a hard reverse, with its chief negotiator Michel Barnier telling MEPs “We will have to find an operational way of carrying out checks and controls without putting back in place a border."
No border from Brussels then.
The Irish government has consistently and repeatedly ruled out constructing a border. On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Taoiseach was clear: “We will not accept a hard border on this island and therefore we are not planning for one.”
Indeed, the Irish press are reporting that far from the customs border being moved into the Irish Sea, it could be moved to the English Channel, with Calais being designated as the location of any checks and controls on goods from both the UK and Ireland.
No border from Ireland then.
Theresa May has repeatedly said she will do everything she can to avoid putting up infrastructure on the frontier. Indeed, such is her desire to avoid a hard border she steered the government to an historic defeat as her Brexit deal encompassed the much hated backstop plan.
No border from the UK then.
It is surely time for all sides to bend a little. Brussels could push for a five-year sunset clause on the backstop, as espoused by Poland's foreign minister this week. Ireland could accept that a an open-ended backstop is not something many in the UK could ever sign up to. Brexiteers need to understand the desire for an insurance policy from our Irish neighbours. Given that the key protagonists have ruled out a hard border in the event of a no-deal, there must be some way of ruling one out as part of the deal that's currently on the table.
Get it sorted, and then both sides can move on to the important task of negotiating a future trading relationship.