LONDON — The European Union will insist that border controls be put up along the Irish border if Britain leaves the bloc without a deal and the British government will be responsible for that, a top EU official said.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, told Sky News in an interview broadcast Sunday that the blame for that would rest squarely on Britain. Border controls could in theory go up soon after Oct. 31, Britain’s scheduled departure date.
Brussels was “in no way responsible” for the consequences of a no-deal Brexit, Juncker told Sky News.
“We have to make sure that the interests of the European Union and of the internal market will be preserved,” he said.
How to maintain a frictionless border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, is the thorniest issue in the Brexit discussions. An invisible border is a key component of 1998’s Good Friday peace accord that brought peace in Northern Ireland after decades of sectarian violence.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is insisting that the Irish border provision in the Brexit deal negotiated by his predecessor, Theresa May, be scrapped. The so-called Irish backstop is effectively a guarantee that no border will go up on the island of Ireland by requiring that Britain stick to EU trade rules — even though it won’t have any say in the formulation of those rules after Brexit — until the two sides have negotiated a comprehensive trade deal. That would leave Britain locked into the EU’s orbit for years.
British lawmakers rejected May’s deal three times this year, with many doing so because of their opposition to the backstop.
Johnson is trying to get the EU to agree to replace the backstop with “alternative arrangements” — a mix of technology to replace border checks and a common area for agricultural products and animals covering the whole island of Ireland.
Juncker said he is open to alternative arrangements, but noted that in a no-deal Brexit, an animal entering Northern Ireland could then enter the EU via Ireland if there are no border controls.
“This will not happen,” he said. “We have to preserve the health and the safety of our citizens.”
Under the rules of the EU’s single market, goods and people can move across the 28 countries seamlessly.
Johnson got elected by Conservative Party members in July on the promise that the country will leave the EU on Oct. 31 come what may.
British lawmakers, however, have passed a law that says the prime minister has to request an extension to the Brexit date if Parliament does not back a deal or a no-deal departure by Oct. 19. That law has raised questions on exactly when the country will leave.
Parliament is now suspended until Oct. 14, just over two weeks before the U.K. is due to leave the EU. However, it may be forced to return if the Supreme Court decides this week that Johnson’s request broke the law when he suspended Parliament.
The Supreme Court is deciding whether Johnson unlawfully shut Parliament to prevent lawmakers from scrutinizing his plan to leave the EU with or without a divorce deal. Opponents also accuse him of misleading Queen Elizabeth II, whose formal approval was needed to suspend the legislature.
The government says that Johnson acted lawfully and the issue of suspending parliament is one for politicians, not the courts.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the government will respect the Supreme Court’s ruling on Johnson’s move to suspend Parliament.
“Of course, we will respect whatever the legal ruling is from the Supreme Court,” he told the BBC on Sunday.
Pressed on whether Northern Ireland could have different EU customs arrangements than the rest of the UK, Raab said: “No, of course, that would be wrong.”