Irish minister suggests ‘Hong Kong solution’ for post-Brexit Northern Ireland

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 November, 2017, 10:47pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 November, 2017, 10:47pm

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney on Wednesday said the arrangement between Hong Kong and mainland China could be a possible solution for addressing the fate of Northern Ireland after Brexit.

The border between EU member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland is becoming an increasing concern in divorce talks with Britain, with Dublin demanding that the frontier remain completely open, or risk endangering the peace process.

Ireland fears that any divergence of Northern Ireland from EU law will automatically require the creation of cross-border controls, hitting the economy and reviving memories of when military checkpoints split the island.

“Britain … must take on their responsibility to Northern Ireland … and we will try to help them design that in a way that is fair to both communities,” Coveney told reporters while on a visit to a community centre in the Northern Ireland city of Belfast. “This isn’t entirely new by the way, there are other parts of the world whereby one country has difficult jurisdictions in terms of customs arrangements and trading arrangements.”

“Hong Kong is an example of that. I think there is probably no country in the world that defends its sovereign borders more aggressively than China does. Yet China lives with [and] functions with Hong Kong which has very much been part of Chinese territories, but operating under a different set of rules,” he said. “I’m not sure whether the Hong Kong solution is appropriate, for Northern Ireland or not, but it is an example, of ironically a British-designed solution.”

Britain – the former colonial power in both Hong Kong and Ireland – handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997. Since then Hong Kong has been governed under a “one country, two systems” deal which allows residents different rights than on the mainland, including freedom of speech and the election of lawmakers.

The EU has given Britain until early December to make sufficient progress on three key Brexit divorce issues – Northern Ireland, its exit bill and the rights of EU citizens living in Britain – to move on to trade talks at a summit on December 14.

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