Saturday 21 September 2019

'Difficult to avoid hard Border with no Brexit deal' - Varadkar admits

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath

Cormac McQuinn and Claire Fox

The threat of a hard Border is looming as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted it would be “very difficult” to avoid if Britain crashes out of the EU without a Brexit divorce deal.

And amid political turmoil in Westminster, EU Commissioner Phil Hogan issued a stark warning.

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“The risk of a no-deal Brexit is still substantial, and there is no point pretending otherwise. I have been a strong and consistent advocate for Ireland to be fully prepared for all possible outcomes, particularly the worst-case scenario,” he said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May faces a potential no-confidence vote from Conservative MPs and is hanging on to power by a thread after agreeing a Brexit deal which would keep all of the UK in a form of customs union with the EU. The deal would avoid a hard Border in Ireland.

Mr Varadkar accepted Mrs May will have “quite a battle” to get the deal through the House of Commons.

The Taoiseach said that “in a no-deal scenario it would be very difficult to avoid a hard Border”.

“The only way we can avoid a hard Border is by an agreement, an agreement that covers customs and regulations,” he said.

“We have that now.”

Mr Varadkar warned "hard Brexiteers" that "good political will" is not enough to avoid a hard border in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

The Taoiseach said a no-deal Brexit would mean Ireland being asked to implement EU law and the UK having to comply with World Trade Organisation rules.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney, insists the Government will not prepare for Border infrastructure in Ireland.

However, he refused to be drawn on how a hard Border could be avoided if the Brexit deal fails to pass.

Mr Hogan warned no country has as much exposure to Brexit as Ireland, with our agri-food sector particularly at risk.

"The simple reality is that free and frictionless trade will require the UK to retain a high degree of convergence with EU rules. A full 70pc of UK agri-food imports came from the EU in 2017," he said.

"I hope that these very stark statistics help to clarify minds in London. The rubber is finally hitting the runway this week, and reality is starting to bite, let's hope that reality starts to bite in London."

There was relief in Government Buildings earlier this week after it emerged Mrs May's government had approved the proposed draft withdrawal agreement with the EU.

But within 24 hours there was a series of resignations by British ministers who are opposed to the deal, including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab.

Eurosceptic Tory MPs have now stepped up their efforts to remove Mrs May and a vote of no confidence in her leadership is expected next week.

The DUP - which Mrs May relies on to stay in power - is also deeply unhappy about the agreement.

The Government has consistently said it will not accept a hard Border.

But Mr Varadkar last night conceded that in a no-deal scenario "it would be very difficult to avoid a hard border".

He said Ireland would "no doubt" be asked to implement EU laws to protect the Single Market and Britain would have to implement World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

Mr Varadkar said he didn't see much room for renegotiating the current deal with the UK, warning such a move could see it "unravel".

He suggested that "as reality kicks in" and the "precipice approaches" there may be more MPs willing to support the deal as "the best possible outcome that can be achieved".

The Taoiseach said the Government was continuing to make preparations for a no-deal Brexit,

"We have to be prudent", while insisting he's "much more confident now that worst-case scenario won't arise."

He added: "The truth is no country can be fully prepared for a no-deal Brexit.

"It would be an extremely chaotic situation... and we might find ourselves after a few weeks of chaos signing up to an agreement much like the one we have now."

Mr Coveney said there were no contingency plans being prepared for a hard Border whether there was a deal or not. He said the way to avoid a hard Border was to support the deal that had been agreed by the EU and the UK.

Mr Coveney warned that coming to a solution that would maintain the soft border if Britain crashes out "won't be easy".

Yet the Tánaiste refused to be drawn on how a hard Border could be avoided.

"In the absence of that deal being approved, it would be difficult to put an alternative to that that prevents a hard Border but we will do that if necessary," he said.

"We've been very clear that there is no eventuality where Ireland would prepare for border infrastructure".

Mr Coveney pointed out British ministers had said that "deal or no deal, we will avoid border infrastructure".

Irish Independent

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