Bertie Ahern: Theresa May 'switching her language' over border

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said a 'hard' border would be bad for the peace process. File picture by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker
Staff Reporter

FORMER Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has accused British Prime Minister Theresa May of "switching her language" over the Irish border.

Mr Ahern said Mrs May appeared to have changed her stance over how the border will be controlled following Brexit.

Last month, following a meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Dublin, the Prime Minister said she wanted a "seamless, frictionless border" after the UK leaves the European Union.

Her comments were echoed by Mr Kenny who said the British and Irish governments "are agreed that a close and friction-free economic and trading relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, including Ireland, is in our very best interests".

However, Mr Ahern, who played a key role in the Good Friday Agreement, said Mrs May appeared to be changing her stance.

"May seems to be switching her language. She's saying not that there'll be no border, but that the border won't be as difficult as to create problems," he told The Observer.

"I worry far more about what's going to happen with that.

"It will take away the calming effects (of an open border).

"Any attempt to try to start putting down border posts, or to man (it) in a physical sense as used to be the case, would be very hard to maintain and would create a lot of bad feeling."

Mr Ahern, who was taoiseach between 1997 and 2008, said he feared a 'hard' post-Brexit border could jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement.

He said: "For the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, the Good Friday Agreement was about removing barriers.

"With so many other issues, there is a real concern... the only way (of) doing this will be a hard border."

Mr Ahern also told The Observer that he did not see how technology could be used to maintain an open border, such as the one between Norway and Sweden.

"I haven't found anyone who can tell me what technology can actually manage this," he said.

Mr Ahern's comments came as Tory MPs called on British Home Secretary Amber Rudd to ease airport entry waits for Commonwealth citizens in order to help boost post-Brexit trade.

Jake Berry and more than 40 fellow Conservative MPs have written to Ms Rudd suggesting changes to border controls such as a Commonwealth entry channel, and fast-tracking business visas.

Mr Berry said he was not looking to ease immigration restrictions, but wanted the Government to take symbolic "small steps" to renew Britain's ties with the Commonwealth after more than 40 years of being focused on the EU.

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