Current Affairs Politics

Belgium MEP Philippe Lamberts: EU Will Impose Sea Border With Ireland

I think it’s safe to say that the former BBC journalist Tim Sebastian has gone full-UKIP in this bizarrely aggressive interview with Philippe Lamberts, the Belgian MEP and member of the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group, for the German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW). That said, the awkward debate does result in some interesting admissions by the representative of the left-wing Greens–European Free Alliance in Brussels (which includes our own Green Party, as well as the SNP and Plaid Cymru in Britain). Not least, Lamberts’ belief that the European Union is prepared to impose a maritime customs border between the Continent and Ireland if the Irish government refuses to secure the British border around the Six Counties in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Tim Sebastian: Mr. Lambert, this is the key sticking point, the Irish border, the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. If Britain crashes out without a deal, day one on this border, what happens?

Philippe Lamberts: There will be controls –

Tim Sebastian: Who’s putting up those controls?

Philippe Lamberts: Well, both sides will need to –

Tim Sebastian: But Britain says it isn’t and Ireland says it isn’t –

Philippe Lamberts: Of course, of course, of course –

Tim Sebastian: And Ireland says it isn’t.

Philippe Lamberts: Well, we will need to have contingency plans for that, of course –

Tim Sebastian: So what are they, your contingency plans?

Philippe Lamberts: …very soon, if this border is not policed, well it will be abused and –

Tim Sebastian: What are the EU’s plans, then? 208 border crossings –

Philippe Lamberts: Yes.

Tim Sebastian: And you propose to police all those, do you?

Philippe Lamberts: Well, we will need to control, we will need to control –

Tim Sebastian: Against the wishes of the Irish state, against the wishes of the Irish Republic? They’ve made it perfectly clear. “What we are saying is very clear” – this from Simon Coveney, the foreign minister – “the Irish government will not support the re-emergence of border infrastructure on this island”. Can it be clearer than that?

Philippe Lamberts: No, it cannot be clearer than that. But then they know the consequences. That then we will put the checks elsewhere than on the intra-Irish border –

Tim Sebastian: Who, who will put the checks?

Philippe Lamberts: Well, the European Union member states. What do you -?

Tim Sebastian: What do these checks look like, then? Who’s gonna put them up? Frontex? [The European Border and Coast Guard Agency]

Philippe Lamberts: Not Frontex! I mean the customs, the customs authority in the various Member States. I mean, what you believe? Do you believe that we are going to let any good enter the European Union just unchecked? And so, if the Irish don’t do it then of course people on the Continent will –

Tim Sebastian: So there will be a border between Ireland and other EU states -?

Philippe Lamberts: And, and I tell you, and I tell you that the Republic of Ireland is very much preoccupied about the integrity of the single market and doesn’t want to be excluded from the single markets… Between two evils we have to choose the lesser one.

Tim Sebastian: So it’s a choice between the Good Friday Agreement and the single market then, isn’t it? …In February you warned Dublin that if it came to a choice between those two things, you would decide that the single market was more important…



15 comments on “Belgium MEP Philippe Lamberts: EU Will Impose Sea Border With Ireland

  1. It will be a bilingual border if Belgium is involved. C’est une frontiere avec deux langues. Grenze met twee taalen.


  2. So in that scenario which way will the Irish government jump?


    • Damned if they do, damned if they don’t. They’ll go for the 6 Counties border and correctly put the blame on the Brits with the EU rowing onboard and with northern nationalists doing the same. And the UK will be doing the same on the other side since they will have no choice under WTO and other terms.


  3. Is that even legal under the EU Constitution? Can they actually make Ireland choose between a Treaty lodged with the UN and the EU membership?


    • That’s the question. Among many others. I can’t see it flying, not in the manner Lamberts states. Legally the point is arguable but politically it is poison. The domestic reaction, the damage to the EU reputation, would be enormous.


      • If they threw Ireland under the bus like that? I’m sure that would ever be forgotten.


        • If they threw Ireland under the bus like that? I’m NOT sure that would ever be forgotten. (Confounded autocorrect!!)


  4. I don’t think Tim Sebastian is being “full-UKIP” here. He’s eliciting the logical consequences – that Philippe Lamberts doesn’t seem to have thought about – of a putative Irish failure or refusal to control the border with NI.
    In fact, it’s likely to be a doubly-inconvenient border. The main concern of the British border guards will be keeping out people and the main concern of the Irish border guards will be keeping out goods so they can’t assume that their opposite numbers will have checked for the same things.


    • Yes, but the weirdly agressive interview style is one I haven’t seen him pursue before. At least, not like that. I mean, he was Full Paxman minus the manners. Very much the impression that there was something very personal in his line of questioning.

      That said, he got a result in terms of an admission on a theoretical sea border set by the EU.

      Good point on the checks.

      I think Lamberts is overstating things here, though. An Irish-policed border under threat of EU action would be domestically disastrous, politically, and advantageous to UK anti-EU rhetoric.


  5. The Brexit narrative was that Ireland was going to be pushed aside and the “Adults” namely, UK and EU would sort a cosy deal giving into the demands of the UK. If the EU were to put a border with the Republic and the EU they would be in breech of the freedom of movement of goods , people, and services as set out by EU treaty. It is up to the EU not to facilitate the free movement of goods from a hostile 3rd country into the EU at the expense of a loyal member State.


  6. Just on Sebastien, he wrote some pretty good post Cold War thrillers in the late 80s and on into the 1990s. I was surprised to find he was the age he was. I thought he was a lot older.

    As to the interview, I wonder what a maritime border between us and the rest of the EU would be like.


    • Very difficult to envisage such a border. I presume extra custom controls at Continental air-/seaports on Irish inward/outward goods, with substantive agreed exceptions, fast-track materials or pre-clearance arrangements, etc. Would be a nightmare scenario for both Ireland the broader EU and politically poison for both. Poland and a few other countries might demand it, but Brussels would know how damaging it would be for the EU to penalise or “punish” one of its own because of the actions of a former member.

      And if Ireland reimposed border controls around the 6 counties, then Dublin and Brussels would take the hit with claims of risking a return to the Troubles. and London could respond with its own controls, as per WTO rules, claiming that it was only following the precedence created by, in reaction to the actions of Dublin/Brussels.

      Sebastian is a good watch normally, but he did seem to be up to some “game” in this interview, as Lamberts complained. Not that I object to seeing an insider Euro MEP getting a good grilling!


  7. I’m sure the interviewer got heartily sick of the unending double-talk and evasion. The absolute reality is that there can’t not be a border. It’s either in the Irish Sea, around the six counties or between Ireland and the EU.

    As the Brits have a rock-solid hold on the North it’s not going to be in the Irish Sea. From their point of view they entered Europe with a certain territory and they’ll leave it with the same.
    Ireland closing their eyes and saying ‘na na na’ doesn’t make the six county border any less of a possibility. So Dublin has to play ball in the end. The Brits would be stuipid to take all the hit on themselves.
    The interviewer just pushed each point to it’s logical conclusion and cut through the fudge.


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