Ok, this is a big one. Firstly, when the government says “a frictionless border” they mean that there will be no hard border between the two countries. Why is this important? The main concern is that having customs checkpoints between the two countries will undermine the peace that was achieved through the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Currently this isn’t a problem because, with the UK and Ireland both in the EU, we’re able to trade as if there are no borders. The problem is it’s not clear how the UK can leave the EU and still maintain the benefits of the EU’s single market and customs union (not to mention maintaining the Common Travel Area). If no agreement can be made, the UK government will be obliged to put a border in place. If they don’t, they risk getting into trouble with the World Trade Organisation for flouting the trade rules.
The good news is that the EU and the UK drafted an initial agreement regarding the Irish border (you can read the actual agreement here). The bad news the final deal was rejected by Parliament in January 2019, and the issue of the Irish border backstop was a huge sticking point for many, not least the DUP. So currently we have no deal. That means we’ll either leave the EU on March 29th with no deal (which has faced opposition from MPs), or we’ll negotiate an extension beyond March 29th to give more time to consider our options.
This is ‘in progress’. Clearly work has been done to try to safeguard a frictionless border, but the deal has collapsed and there is still much to do. Follow this policy for updates.
- Brexit: Theresa May’s deal is voted down in historic Commons defeat – BBC
- Brexit: What happens now? – BBC
- Q&A: The Irish border Brexit backstop – BBC
- Brexit: EU has hard questions to answer, says DUP – BBC
- A successful Brexit: three foreign and security policy tests – The UK in a Changing Europe
- Brexit Countdown: Why is the Northern Ireland border question so hard? – BBC
- Brexit deal breaks deadlock – experts react – The Conversation UK
- The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 – Gov.uk