Wednesday 17 October 2018

Coveney warns UK must give more clarity on border before Brexit talks can move on to trade

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has strongly signalled that Brexit talks could be blocked from moving on to the future trading relationship unless Britain gives more clarity on the border.

The minister said customs checks would be unavoidable if the UK and EU are not in the same customs union. He also said the UK had so far not provided a "credible roadmap" to avoiding a hard border.

"We have made good progress on the Common Travel Area and we are working through in immense detail in terms of the Good Friday Agreement, but on the border issue, I’m sorry, but we need more clarity than we have right now," Mr Coveney said.

"We cannot move ahead to phase two [ of the Brexit talks] on the back of a promise that we don’t see any delivery mechanism to make a reality. We don’t need to have all of the answers, but we certainly need to have more assurance than we do today.

"And we need to have some assurance, and some understanding, that if the trade negotiations collapse at some stage in the future, then actually the Irish issues will still be resolved and will be prioritised in the context of unique and imaginative solutions that both negotiating teams accept are necessary".

Last week EU leaders said at a summit that they would begin preparations to move into "phase two" of the Brexit negotiations in December, a step forward that would allow London to discuss its future trade relationship with the bloc.

But Mr Coveney told a Brexit event organised by AIB that for that to happe, there needs to be "progress and reality" around a number of issues.

He welcomed the fact that Britain remains committed to avoiding a hard border.

But he added: "I don’t see a credible road map to get us there. I just can’t see it right now. I don’t see how you avoid customs checks if you are not in the same customs union as the rest of the European Union, I just don’t see how that’s possible."

He also accused the UK government of promising things that it cannot deliver.

"Leaving the European Union cannot result in holding on to all of the trade bits of membership, while at the same time promising your people that you can negotiate all of these other goodies that can create competitive advantage as well as holding on to the benefits of EU membership," the minister said.

"It can’t be done. It won’t be done and it cannot be negotiated."

Also addressing the AIB event at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Dublin was former World Trade Organisation chief Pascal Lamy.

Mr Lamy said it was impossible to have a 'no border' solution, claiming it was a "fairy-tale".

"Borders are necessary to check and to police. I personally believe that there is no ‘no border’ solution," Mr Lamy said.

He said some sort of special status for Northern Ireland should be looked at, including designating the North an autonomous customs territory - a special trade status - that would allow it to essentially maintain the status quo and mirror existing arrangements.

However, he accepted that this would entail a border down the Irish Sea, between Northern Ireland and Britain. 

Mr Lamy previously told an event organised by Dublin City University’s Brexit Institute that whatever trade agreement was secured between the UK and EU, there would have to be a border.

The minister said customs checks are unavoidable if there is no customs arrangement agreed between the UK and EU.

“If, when you travel from Dublin to Belfast, and you’re driving from one customs union into another customs union, and you’re driving from the European Union to outside the European Union, and from the single market outside the single market, I don’t ses how you can avoid some form of border infrastructure.

“And we have consistently pointed that out.”

Mr Coveney said the Government is also making contingency plans.

"We are preparing in the background for outcomes that we don’t want."

AIB chairman Richard Pym said the country needs to be ready for a “car crash Brexit”.

“We must prepare for the worst possible car crash Brexit if the ultra Brexiteers, the head bangers, are prepared to blow up the British economy in the name of taking back control,” Mr Pym said.

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