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RBS says Irish border issue is key in bank's post-Brexit future

  • The bank wants to know what sort of relationship there will be in the Irish border once the U.K. officially leaves the European Union in March 2019.
  • The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said that Northern Ireland should remain under EU rules after Brexit.

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) seems concerned with one of the most contentious issues in the ongoing Brexit negotiations — the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

The bank, which has large operations in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, wants to know what sort of relationship there will be in their border once the U.K. officially leaves the European Union in March 2019. This is because the U.K. does not want to stay in the EU's free-trade area, the so-called single market, and there are accords between both parts of the island against a harder border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

"We are going to have to do all the preparations that you'd expect us to do," Ewen Stevenson , chief financial officer of RBS told CNBC Wednesday afternoon, adding that the bank was working towards the March 2019 deadline — when the U.K. is set to officially depart from the EU.

Both European and British negotiating teams are discussing the possibilities for a transition period after March 2019. But, until now, there has been no agreement on how long such period would be and how it would work.

A man walks past a mural marking unionist territory on May 4, 2016 in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
Charles McQuillan | Getty Images
A man walks past a mural marking unionist territory on May 4, 2016 in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

"We are working on the basis, we are working towards a March 2019 timetable until we know otherwise and it's not just the issue of Amsterdam for us (RBS decided to move its European business to Amsterdam to be able to continue to operate in Europe), we've also got a very big banking operation in Ireland and the biggest banking operation in Northern Ireland so the nature of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland is also an important issue to us in terms of what we have to structurally do," Stevenson said.

On Wednesday, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said that Northern Ireland should remain under EU rules after Brexit, adding that the "backstop" agreement for this had been reached back in December.

However, May's coalition ally in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has expressed its opposition against this idea and threatened to revoke its support in parliament.

Also on Wednesday, Prime Minister May seemed to have shifted her position arguing that the leader of the U.K. could never agree with the EU's idea, which would keep Northern Ireland under the union's rules.