Wednesday 17 July 2019

Ireland's backstop is 'precious' and needs to be defended, says EC president-elect

Von der Leyen describes Irish solution as ‘precious’ as Government negotiates how to carry out checks

Border is crucial: Ursula von der Leyen, incoming EC president. Photo: REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo
Border is crucial: Ursula von der Leyen, incoming EC president. Photo: REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The incoming president of the European Commission has indicated she will defend Ireland's "precious" backstop ahead of Brexit.

Ursula von der Leyen told MEPs she still hopes the UK will reverse its decision to leave the European Union on October 31.

But failing that she urged the UK's next prime minister to accept the existing Withdrawal Agreement which includes the backstop.

It comes as Irish officials are involved in tough negotiations with the commission on how to avoid Border checks in the event that the UK crashes out of the union.

The backstop will see regulatory alignment maintained across the island of Ireland so that goods and livestock can continue to move seamlessly between jurisdictions.

If the House of Commons refuses to endorse the deal then Ireland will be expected to protect the EU's single market through customs and veterinary checks on products entering from the UK.

The Government is trying to assure EU colleagues that this can be done at the "point of arrival" rather than at the Border. This would most likely involve inspections taking place at farms and factories.

However, sources said there is still a high level of scepticism at EU level about whether such measures would be sufficient.

Both Irish and EU officials are still hoping that the House of Commons will approve the Withdrawal Agreement in return for changes to the political declaration on the future of EU/UK relations.

In her first comments on the situation since being nominated to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the commission, Ms Von der Leyen told British MEPs: "I think it's a good deal, but it is your responsibility and your noble task to sort this out."

In a statement clearly aimed at the Conservative Party leadership contenders, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, she said the tone and attitude with which Brexit happens were crucial.

"Brexit is not the end of something, Brexit is the beginning of future relations and it's of absolute importance that we have good co-operation," the German politician said.

Speaking about the impact on Ireland, she said: "I think the backstop is of utmost importance and we absolutely know how crucial this non-existent Border is for you.

"Having the backstop in the Brexit deal is precious, important and has to be defended."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has not yet met with Ms Von der Leyen but is expected to have an introductory phonecall in the coming days.

He told the Dáil yesterday that he believes she will back the EU's solidarity with Ireland on Brexit.

"I am confident that she will stick to what she has said in the past, particularly about Brexit and the backstop.

"I am confident that she will be in line with the political programme of the EPP which is the one her party signed up to," Mr Varadkar said.

The Taoiseach added that he wants to speak to her about what portfolio Ireland's nominee in the new commission will receive. There has been speculation Phil Hogan wants to be put in charge of trade.

But Mr Varadkar said: "I have not sought or received any promises on them. I know it is difficult for a small country to get an influential portfolio. I will be working hard to ensure that our commissioner gets an influential portfolio."

Meanwhile, a new report suggests at least 40,000 jobs in the North could be at risk in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The study, which is published by the UK's Department for the Economy, warned that exports to the Republic of Ireland could fall by between 11pc and 19pc.

Irish Independent

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