Friday 20 September 2019

Brexit: 'This island will get into real difficulties,' Taoiseach warns, as a hard border looms

  • Government insists it has not carried out any planning for border infrastructure

  • Contingency plans restate commitment to maintain an open border

British Prime Minister Theresa May shakes hands with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Brussels Picture: Sky News/AP
British Prime Minister Theresa May shakes hands with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Brussels Picture: Sky News/AP
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Damien Eagers
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A hard border now looks inevitable as soon as Britain moves to strike trade deals with countries outside the EU.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has admitted once the UK government changes its customs rules and regulations, this island will "get into real difficulties".

The Irish Government continues to insist it has not carried out any planning for physical infrastructure at the Border.

But there are mounting fears that while some initial leeway may be offered in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the EU and World Trade Organisation would ultimately demand checks on animals and food moving between the North and the Republic.

Nobody in the Government has been able to explain how checks could take place without a physical border.

The European Commission has clearly stated that in the event of a disorderly Brexit "every consignment of live animals and animal products coming from the UK would have to undergo checks in border inspection posts at the point of entry to the EU".

Ireland will be expected to protect the single market at what will be the only new EU land frontier after Brexit.

Ireland's contingency plans for a no-deal scenario restate the Government's commitment to maintain an open border - but give no detail on how this would be possible if the UK crashes out of the EU.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Damien Eagers
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Damien Eagers

Mr Varadkar said yesterday he was "nearly always loath" to take part in speculation about the Border because "a lot of it raises more questions than I can give answers to.

"In order to avoid a hard Border, you must have alignment on customs and regulations.

"So it's all very well for people to say nobody wants a hard Border.

"Nobody wants it in Dublin, nobody wants it in Belfast, nobody wants it in Brussels or London. But if you don't have alignment on customs and regulations, then you get into real difficulties," he said.

"If the UK crashed out of the European Union at the end of March they would still be aligned on customs and regulations. So the problem would only arise if they decided in some way to change their customs and regulations."

A key demand of Brexiteers in the EU parliament is that they have the freedom to diverge from EU rules in order to secure trade deals on their own terms with other countries.

Mr Varadkar said discussions had started with the EU on what might happen but a lot more would be needed.

"There is a real understanding across the EU that this isn't a typical border, that this is a border that goes through villages, goes through farms, goes through businesses and, of course, is a border that people fought and killed other people over as well," he said.

"And the fact that we had so many people from other European countries coming to Ireland, so many people who actually visited the Border, has really helped us in creating an understanding of how difficult this is for us."

No preparations for a physical infrastructure had been made. The focus had been on new facilities at Dublin Port, Dublin Airport and Rosslare.

Fianna Fáil's Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers said she had been briefed that customs checks would be required but not necessarily at the Border for the EU.

"Extremely difficult political decisions will have to be taken," the Mayo TD said. "We'll get a little bit of latitude but there is only so long [the EU] will allow an open border."

She added: "The UK is saying it'll be up to the EU and Ireland to erect a border but that's not fair either. They will have obligations under WTO rules."

Irish Independent

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