Wednesday 20 February 2019

'It's pretty obvious... Ireland will have hard border in no-deal Brexit scenario' - EU

'The Irish government will not support the re-emergence of a border' - Coveney

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe TD pictured with Tanaiste Simon Coveney TD at a Brexit briefing outside Government Offices.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe TD pictured with Tanaiste Simon Coveney TD at a Brexit briefing outside Government Offices.
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A HARD border on the island of Ireland is inevitable if the UK crash out of the European Union, it has finally been admitted.

A spokesperson for the European Commission today said that in a no-deal scenario “you will have a hard border”.

The Irish government have staunchly refused to engage on the issue for months now, insisting the backstop will prevent customs checks.

British Prime Minister Theresa May now appears to be abandoning her commitment to the backstop in a bid to get the DUP to support her Withdrawal Agreement. Senior EU figures, including chief negotiator Michel Barnier, have said it cannot be amended.

When pushed to give the EU position on a no-deal scenario, EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said: "If you'd like ... to push me and speculate on what might happen in a no-deal scenario in Ireland, I think it's pretty obvious -- you will have a hard border."

The Union's commitment to the Good Friday Agreement, "will have to take inevitably into account this fact", he added, while insisting the EU would stand behind the peace accords that followed three decades of civil conflict.

A government spokesman responded to the statement, saying:"We will not accept a hard border on this island and therefore we are not planning for one."

Read more: Kevin Doyle: 'A hard border? Now is not the time to stick our heads in the sand'

He said the position held over recent months has not changed.

"There is a deal to ensure no return to a hard border in any circumstance in Ireland. That deal took 18-months to negotiate and has been ratified by the EU 27 and passed by the British Cabinet. We should keep the focus where it needs to be and that is Westminster deciding what it wants.
"Regardless of Brexit, the British government will always have responsibilities as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement to ensure that, even in a no deal, there will not be a return to a border," he said.

Margaritis Schinas
Margaritis Schinas

The spokesman said the Irish government is under "no illusions about how challenging that would be".

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said the onus still lies with politicians in Westminster to come up with an alternative way of avoiding a hard border if they do not want the backstop.

At a press conference outside Government Buildings, Mr Coveney still refused to go into any detail about how a border could be avoided in the event that the Withdrawal Agreement is rejected.

But he admitted: “We cannot wish away this problem.”

Mr Coveney said people shouldn’t “lose focus” from trying to get the Withdrawal Agreement passed by the UK parliament.

“The Irish government will not support the re-emergence of a border,” he said, adding that without the backstop it becomes “very, very difficult”.

Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

“The solution is there. We have it,” he said.

The Foreign Affairs Minister said there is a particular responsibility on the UK government to ensure there is no hard border in Irealnd.

“We will work to avoid a hard border in all circumstances,” Mr Coveney told reporters.

Meanwhile, at Leinster House, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said the resumption of Northern Ireland’s assembly “wouldn’t be an answer” to the Brexit dilemma.

As the DUP prepare to put further pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May to water down the backstop, Ms McDonald defended the absence of an assembly in Belfast.

Saturday will mark two years since the Assembly collapsed.

While saying it’s a "disgrace" that MLAs haven’t met then, Ms McDonald said her party has done all it can to get the assembly back up and running.

She blamed the British and Irish governments for "acquiescing" to the DUP.

Asked by Independent.ie whether Sinn Féin should temporarily put aside its political demands to allow the Assembly sit until Brexit is resolved, Ms McDonald replied: "That actually wouldn’t be an answer to the Brexit dilemma. This Brexit negotiation is between the European Union and the British government.

"Of course I would be a much happier person if the Assembly and the executive were up and running. It’s a disgrace we don’t have operational government in the North.

"But I don’t want you to imagine for a second that that would the silver bullet in this scenario. It frankly wouldn’t be."

She said politicians in Westminster already know that the majority of public representatives in Northern Ireland do not support Brexit.

"This is a much bigger political play. It’s about England in the first instance," the Dublin West TD said.

It comes as the DUP’s Sammy Wilson said Mrs May must secure changes to the Withdrawal Agreement to provide legally-binding assurances on the backstop.

The backstop is a mechanism by which a hard border on this island of Ireland can be avoided but the DUP fears it could see Northern Ireland treated differently from the rest of the UK.

"There's no point in having assurances which don't have the same standing, the same status as the terms of the withdrawal agreement."

"That will be the big issue which I think the prime minister has to push with the EU when she enters negotiations with them again."

Mrs May has said she would seek further concessions from the bloc to ease concerns about the backstop.

However, Fianna Fáil’s Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers said today that the backstop is "the only show in town".

She urged the Irish government to remain firm, dismissing suggestions from Poland that the backstop could have a five-year time limit.

Ms Chambers said it would be better to see the March 29 deadline for Brexit extended rather than allow a no deal scenario.

But Ms Chambers did criticise the Government’s approach to no-deal contingency planning. She accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney of engaging in "secrecy".

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