Northern Ireland’s police force does not have sufficient resources to effectively control the border with the Republic of Ireland if checkpoints are reinstated in the event of a no-deal Brexit, its chief said on Thursday.
Chief Constable Simon Byrne said that a no-deal Brexit could have a detrimental impact on security in the British-run province, which has been at peace for two decades after years of political and sectarian violence.
“We have less than 7,000 officers here these days, we simply don’t have enough people, even with a recent budget uplift, to cope with some of the Brexit challenges, to actually police that,” he said.
Britain, Ireland and the European Union want to avoid a return of physical checks on the border, which was marked by military checkpoints before a 1998 peace agreement between Catholic nationalists seeking a united Ireland and Protestant unionists who wanted to keep Northern Ireland British.
But how to manage what will become Britain’s only land border with the EU – including the contested “backstop” mechanism to prevent checks – remains the most contentious part of a withdrawal agreement that Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to renegotiate.
On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel challenged Britain to come up with alternatives to the Irish border backstop within 30 days, but French President Emmanuel Macron said the Brexit deal would not be renegotiated.
“The reality of using technology or some form of hard check point in the border area is simply just not practical. There are over 300 crossings that we’d have to police on a daily basis to make that effective,” Byrne said.
He said he was also worried for the safety of his officers in such a scenario.
“The minute we go into that area in a way that looks like checkpoints, or supporting other agencies to staff checkpoints, we become a target for those dissident Republicans,” he said.