Sunday 20 October 2019

Boris Johnson's Brexit proposals for border are 'fanciful' - Tánaiste

Boris Johnson greets Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney (Jack Taylor/PA)
Boris Johnson greets Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney (Jack Taylor/PA)
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

TÁNAISTE Simon Coveney has hit out at British proposals on the Irish border question as "fanciful" and and warned infrastructure will be needed in the case of a crash-out Brexit.

In a hard-hitting speech in New York, Mr Coveney challenged British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to come up with a solution to the Irish border question.

And he also expressed frustration that Ireland is spending "hundreds of millions" to prepare for Brexit which is "problem that is not of our making and that we disagree with".

And he warned that if a hard Brexit results in two different regulatory systems in Ireland "you have to have border infrastructures".

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that Mr Johnson's government had not submitted any new proposals in writing as yet.

He said there has definitely been a change of policy due to the change of prime minister.

"Prime minister [Theresa] May and her Government were very much for a close relationship with the single market, a single customs territory... whereas the new prime minister and his Government are looking for a looser arrangement, something more akin to the relationship that the EU has with Canada.

"That actually makes the backstop all then more important and all the more necessary."

Asked about Mr Coveney's remarks on border infrastructure he said: "Certainly in the event of no-deal if the UK leaves the EU and it leaves on WTO terms well then it will be necessary to have checks and controls at the ports and the airports and some near the border as well - but that will be their decision not ours."

Mr Varadkar was also asked about the prospect of the UK seeking an extension to the Brexit deadline amid the renewed turmoil in Westmister.

He said: "I think we are a good bit away from a request for an extension from the UK at this stage.

"I have always said that Ireland would be open to granting an extension if they ask for it - but they would have to ask for it. It's not for us to impose it on them."

Boris Johnson meets Leo Varadkar. Photo: Stefan Rousseau
Boris Johnson meets Leo Varadkar. Photo: Stefan Rousseau

Mr Varadkar also said: "There a lot of other European countries though that are increasingly sceptical about whether there should be an extension or not, and would want it to happen for a good reason. 

"But I think we are a couple of weeks away from that scenario arising. Certainly I would rather see a deal being ratified so that we can end the uncertainty that has been affecting citizens and business for far too long now."

Mr Coveney - speaking at a breakfast hosted by the Irish Consulate in New York's The River Club - said the Irish government has told Mr Johnson "that if his approach is that he will support the withdrawal agreement without the backstop, then the onus is on him to answer the question how do we solve the Irish border issue."

He said "whether backstop does it or something else having the same results as the backstop doesn't really bother the Irish people.

"Our position is we need a solution to this question. "

He added: "There has been a lot of fanciful discussion and proposals coming forward around alternative arrangements on the basis of technology cameras, trusted trader schemes.

"But to be honest with you, when you test these answers they're essentially borders away from the border."

Mr Coveney accused Mr Johnson's government of seeking to remove the solution and "creating a much bigger problem to solve in the context of the Irish question".

He said they want to get rid of the backstop and also want to fundamentally diverge from EU rules and regulations and a level playing field."

Mr Coveney warned: "if you have two single markets next door to each other, operating to different rules, you have to have border infrastructures - otherwise you fundamentally undermine the functioning and integrity of both those markets because you don’t know what’s coming and going, and where it’s come from."

Read more: John Downing: 'UK court bombshell leaves only one real option for Johnson - he must get a deal'

Mr Coveney said the Irish government "really want a deal" and are working to find ways to achieve one.

He said: "A no deal is a disaster for Ireland. We know that.

"We have put a huge amount of work into putting contingency plans in place to try to manage that and I think we can do a reasonably good job in many many areas.

"We're spending hundreds of millions of euro of Irish taxpayer's money to prepare for that."

He also said some people in the UK say they're frustrated Ireland is not showing more flexibility.

"It's the Irish that should be frustrated," he said.

Read more: Colette Browne: 'Johnson's Supreme Court drubbing shows exactly why we need clear legal guarantee of the backstop'

"We are spending a huge amount of our own money and a huge amount of our time and effort and political currency across the European Union in trying to solve a problem that is not of our making and that we disagree with and don't see the sense of but respect because it was made democratically.

"The least I think we can expect is a facilitation that is consistent with the challenge that we face."

Mr Coveney said "there's a deal to be done" and saying it's impossible is "nonsense".

"There are solutions to this but it's a matter of political will."

Read more: Editorial: 'Inept Johnson has set a new benchmark for epic failure'

He also warned: "The expectation that somehow Ireland will at the very end of this process because of the consequences of a no-deal for Ireland that we'll suddenly get weak-kneed and essentially agree to some kind of half-way house is a fundamental misreading of the Irish mindset on this issue.

"We want an honest solution to a difficult and complex problem that allows Brexit to move ahead that protects the unique relationships on the island of Ireland," he said.

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