Bassett: 'Ireland's mistake is to back team EU'
Ireland is making "a very big mistake in backing team EU" in the Brexit negotiations and is "now in a diplomatic cul-de-sac", a former Irish ambassador has warned.
"Ireland has more at stake than any other EU country. We should be working closely with Britain to achieve the best possible Brexit outcome," said Ray Bassett, who retired as Irish ambassador to Canada in 2016.
"Ireland made a very big mistake throwing its lot in completely with the EU. We need to sit down directly with the British and come to an arrangement [about the border with the North]. And if that means breaking a few EU rules, let's do that".
Fears Brexit could mean a 'hard border', thus encouraging sectarian violence, have overshadowed Brexit negotiations from the start.
Customs posts are "inevitable" if the UK leaves the EU's single market and customs union, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said last week. He echoed EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who said physical border checks were "unavoidable" under such circumstances.
Bassett questions the EU's motives. "Trying to negotiate the border before the UK's broader trade agreement with the EU was agreed never made any sense," he said. "But the EU was using Ireland to pressurise Britain, trying to extract a good financial settlement."
Insisting the border issue "can be solved through a combination of customs pre-clearance and technology", Bassett accused Barnier of "using border sensitivities" to get "as much leverage over the UK as possible".
Citing a 2017 UK government position paper, he supported the suggestion that the 80pc of all cross-border trade which is agricultural or local be duty exempt, while encouraging a streamlined customs process for the other 20pc.
Bassett also said he was "disturbed by signs of renewed Anglophobia".
"The whole idea of government, particularly the professional civil service, is to detach yourself from emotions and to decide what's best for your country - and we have such a common interest that anything that damages Britain damages us," he added.