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Irish Border Continues To Be A Sticking Point In A Brexit Deal

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Prime Minister Theresa May won this vote. Parliament crushed her Brexit plan but voted yesterday to support her trying again. She now heads off to Brussels to try to get better terms for leaving the European Union.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: It is now clear that there is a route that can secure a substantial and sustainable majority in this house for leaving the EU with a deal.

INSKEEP: One divisive issue is what to do along the border with Ireland. Martina Devlin is following that part of the story, along with the rest of it. She joins us this morning from Dublin, where she is an author and columnist. Welcome to the program.

MARTINA DELVIN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Would you just remind us what the worst-case scenario is. What would happen in Ireland if Britain leaves the EU with no deal at all?

DELVIN: Well, the worst face - the worst-case scenario is a cliff-face Brexit, and that would mean a hard border on the island of Ireland between Northern Ireland and the Republic. And a hard border would be a gift to dissident republicans. In turn, that could reignite loyalist violence. So no deal compromises the Good Friday Agreement, which has delivered harmony on the island of Ireland for the past two decades, and it has been good for unionist and nationalist alike.

INSKEEP: So by emphasizing the divide in this historically divided island, it would threaten the reignition of violence on the island there. That's what you're saying.

DELVIN: That's right. And there were 30 years of violence, and they impacted on all sorts of ways on daily life and on people's ability to earn a living - led to emigration - all sorts. I mean, I grew up in Northern Ireland during The Troubles. And the - you know, the island was divided in the most arbitrary way. So you'll get, for example, a petrol station with the forecourt in the Republic of Ireland and the pumps in the north of Ireland. There are villages in the Republic that you can only access by driving into Northern Ireland and out again. And it was done in an arbitrary way without consultation. And there were signs miles all along the border. And bear in mind, the border runs for 300-odd miles. These signs say hard border, soft border, no border. And they're intended as a warning and not a plea.

INSKEEP: OK, so tell me here because the one question is, how does Britain figure out a way that this is a border but not a border between two different trading zones and yet still open? And the Brexit Minister - the government's Brexit Minister was on BBC, and the headline that came out of that in The Irish Times, by the way, is "Brexit Minister Unable To Say What Alternative To Irish Backstop Is." He was asked, what is your plan? And what came out was word salad. Do you feel confident that Theresa May has got this one?

DELVIN: I don't feel at all confident. I think that Ireland didn't figure at all when Britain handed its delusions by taking back control. And the penny is now dropping very slowly. But because the DUP, which is a party of Northern unionists, is holding the balance of power in Britain. They're refusing to do anything which divides Northern Ireland from Britain. They want to maintain what they call the precious union. But, you know, there will have to be a boundary set up, and it will have to be policed and checked. It will be imposed, and it will have repercussions - the violence that I referenced earlier.

The reason it will be imposed is because - to protect the single market. Otherwise, Britain could do a deal, say, for a cheaper South American beef, which doesn't adhere to the same standards about hormones in the meat. And this meat could then enter the EU through the border in Ireland. And that would be detrimental for Irish farmers but also for EU farmers. Sooner or later, there'll be checks. It's inevitable.

INSKEEP: OK, Martina Devlin, thanks very much for your insights - really appreciate it.

DELVIN: Pleasure.

INSKEEP: She is an author and columnist in Dublin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.