Thursday 21 February 2019

EU now looks set to ask Ireland to accept concessions

  • EU's stance on necessity for a Border in a no deal Brexit has dramatically hardened
  • Devastating blow to the Government, the EU now appears to be leaning on Dublin for concessions ahead of a final showdown with the UK
  • Taoiseach insists hard Border will be unacceptable after EU warns of consequence of no-deal scenario 
Stark warning over no deal: EC spokesman Margaritis Schinas
Stark warning over no deal: EC spokesman Margaritis Schinas
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The EU's stance on the necessity for a Border in a no deal Brexit has dramatically hardened.

In a devastating blow to the Government, the EU now appears to be leaning on Dublin for concessions ahead of a final showdown with the UK.

Brussels has indicated there will be an obligation on Ireland to erect a hard Border in a disorderly Brexit.

Officials gave Tánaiste Simon Coveney no warning before publicly declaring the “obvious” outcome of a hard Brexit will be a hard Border.

The development left ministers struggling to come up with a coherent response. On one hand, the Government claimed to be “preparing for all eventualities” but at the same time “absolutely” denied planning for Border checks.

While seeking to shift the onus for a solution back on to Westminster, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said this country will face a “real dilemma” if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal.

He insisted the backstop is still alive, saying: “We cannot give it up in return for a promise that it will be all right on the night.”

Asked what would happen on March 29 if the UK leaves without a deal, Mr Varadkar said a hard Border would not be acceptable.

"We would have to negotiate an agreement on customs and regulations that would mean full alignment so there would be no hard Border," he said.

"We already have that agreement and that is the backstop. Nobody who is opposed to the backstop can credibly state he or she is also against a hard Border unless he or she can come up with something else that aligns customs and regulations and allows a Border to be avoided. Nobody else has done that yet."

Mr Varadkar held a private meeting with Opposition leaders last night where he said Ireland must hold its nerve as the clock ticks down.

He told them the EU has not put pressure on Ireland relating to a border but a hard Brexit was the elephant in the room. There was a suggestion that checks would have to take place if the existing deal is not ratified but there are still questions over where they would occur.

There was surprise in Dublin when European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas gave a blunt assessment of the situation to journalists earlier in the day.

For months, Ireland and the EU have diligently refused to engage in 'what if' questions on the Border.

Mr Schinas very deliberately abandoned that approach in a move that has been interpreted as an effort to prepare Dublin for some difficult discussion in the weeks ahead.

Ministers were in the process of discussing no-deal contingency plans at their weekly Cabinet meeting when the news broke. "If you like to push me on what might happen in a no-deal scenario in Ireland, I think it's pretty obvious, you will have a hard Border," Mr Schinas said.

"Our commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and everything that we have been doing for years with our tools, instruments and programmes will have to take inevitably into account this fact.

"So, of course, we are for peace, of course we stand behind the Good Friday Agreement, but that's what a no-deal scenario would entail."

Shortly afterwards, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe called a media opportunity at Government Buildings in a bid to play down the comments.

"We cannot wish away this problem," Mr Coveney said.

He argued people shouldn't "lose focus" from trying to get the Withdrawal Agreement passed by the UK parliament.

Mr Varadkar later accepted Ireland will have obligations to protect the European single market after Brexit.

But he noted the UK will have similar responsibilities to the World Trade Organisation.

The Taoiseach said both countries "must honour the Good Friday Agreement, protect the peace process and honour our commitment to the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland that there will not be a hard Border".

Government sources insisted that while some form of new negotiations would be necessary, they would not take place on a bilateral basis. Instead, Ireland would still expect the EU taskforce under Michel Barnier to argue our corner.

With just over two months to a potential cliff-edge scenario, there is no timeline for when talks on avoiding a hard Border without the Withdrawal Agreement might take place.

Mr Varadkar is likely to turn to German Chancellor Angela Merkel for solidarity when he meets her at the World Trade Forum in Davos later this week. The pair spoke by phone on January 3, leading the Taoiseach to tell the Dáil that German politicians "understand borders, hard borders and partitions in a way that perhaps very few other people in the European Union do".

Irish Independent

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