Wednesday 27 March 2019

All-island border threat sparks fear we’ll be cut adrift

But Coveney insists all pressure is on UK over backstop

Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Picture: Justin Farrelly
Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Picture: Justin Farrelly
Get digging: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Transport Minister Shane Ross with Dublin Airport Authority CEO Dalton Philips at the official sod-turning for the new North Runway. Photo: Collins
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Tánaiste Simon Coveney is fighting back against anonymous EU sources who have claimed Ireland could be economically cut adrift in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

He has insisted all the pressure from Brussels is targeted on the UK who are the ones looking for alternatives to the backstop.

It comes after the well-respected news agency Reuters quoted an EU diplomat saying Dublin will soon have to come up with a plan to ensure the integrity of the EU’s single market or face checks on exports to mainland Europe.

The diplomat said: “But soon enough it [Ireland] will have to face up to the fact that either there is a border on the island or a border between Ireland and the rest of the EU.”

Mr Coveney responded: “Unless there is a name behind a source and a quote then I’m suspicious of it.”

The Tánaiste still expects a deal but expressed frustration about the “kindergarten stuff” coming from some quarters in the UK on the Border. “It is incredible the British parliament has allowed it come to this,” he said.

Prime Minister Theresa May was further than ever from bringing forward new proposals last night after suffering a humiliating defeat in the House of Commons.

MPs voted by 303 votes to 258 against a motion reiterating support for May's approach to Brexit, which won a majority just two weeks ago.

Irish officials last night saw the defeat for Mrs May as a "little victory" for our cause in Europe.

"It shows the rest of Europe that this isn't really about the backstop. For a month they have been saying it's about the backstop but this vote wasn't about that and they knifed her," a source said.

The defeat is symbolic rather than binding, but feeds into the fear that the UK will crash out of the EU on March 29.

The House of Commons also rejected two opposition motions which sought to postpone Brexit or steer the UK away from the "no-deal" cliff edge.

Despite the vote, Downing Street said Mrs May will continue to seek changes to her Brexit deal. "The government will continue to pursue this with the EU to ensure we leave on time on March 29," the spokesman said.

He added that the prime minister believed her Conservative MPs still wanted her to renegotiate the deal, but had voted against her because they were concerned about the prospect of taking no deal off the table at this stage.

The chaos in London is adding to questions about whether the Irish Government will eventually have to start planning for a hard Border.

Reuters yesterday reported a senior EU diplomat as saying this country would soon have to come up with a plan to ensure the integrity of the EU's single market or face checks on its own goods coming into the rest of the bloc.

"Ireland can get transition periods or some temporary opt-outs on the Border in the worst-case scenario," the source added.

The comments were met with "suspicion" in Dublin, where officials questioned the motive behind them.

Separately, EU sources told the Irish Independent the comments would not have been sanctioned by the "key players" in Brussels.

Ireland has always maintained in a no-deal scenario the Irish and British governments would have to come together with the EU to find a way forward. This has been backed by public statements from EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar expects to get further reassurance when he meets his counterparts at an EU-Arab summit in Egypt next week.

Addressing the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, Mr Coveney said EU capitals were in "no mood" to abandon Ireland at this stage. "One of the big mistakes in London is the perspective that the EU needs a deal as much as we need a deal, that's factually just not true," he said.

"Those commitments [from Britain] still stand and we can't just wipe the slate clean and have people make farcical arguments like 'well you don't want a Border, we don't want a Border, the EU doesn't want a Border', so let's just pretend it's not a problem. That's kindergarten stuff."

Mr Coveney said the Government is in continuous talks with the European Commission in terms of contingency plans for a no-deal scenario.

"It is understood in the European Commission, the sensitivity of the Border issue in Ireland," he said.

"As far as I'm concerned the British government has made a commitment to Ireland to not make decisions that will result in physical border infrastructure re-emerging between the two jurisdictions on this island. They have an obligation to follow through on that commitment."

The Tánaiste added that "deal or no deal" there will be an obligation on the two governments and the EU "to try to work together to find a way to avoid physical border infrastructure on this island".

"We're been very clear and firm on that and will continue to be," he said.

He told the committee that Brexit is costing Ireland hundreds of millions of euro in terms of working capital facilities, loans, upgrading ports and other incentives. "Any sane person who looks at the consequences [of no deal] for Britain and Ireland, I don't believe that will happen but it could."

Irish Independent

Also in Business