Friday 18 October 2019

Johnson Brexit plan 'a disaster' for Ireland as UK in paralysis

Coveney warns on no-deal danger as unrepentant British prime minister refuses to say sorry or resign

Boxed in: Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at Downing Street after his visit to the UN in New York. He later faced angry scenes in Parliament. Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters
Boxed in: Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at Downing Street after his visit to the UN in New York. He later faced angry scenes in Parliament. Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Cormac McQuinn and Kevin Doyle

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attempts to replace the backstop have been dismissed as “fanciful”.

Addressing an audience in New York, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that if the UK continued on its current path it would amount to “a disaster for Ireland”.

He accused the UK government of “creating a much bigger problem to solve in the context of the Irish question”.

As the House of Commons resumed, a defiant Mr Johnson refused to resign or apologise after the UK Supreme Court ruled his proroguing of Parliament was illegal. He insisted he would continue to demand the backstop be scrapped.

He claimed the EU “is now discussing a reopening of the Withdrawal Agreement” – something that has been categorically ruled out by European leaders.

“I was told there was no chance of a new deal, but we are discussing a new deal,” Mr Johnson said.

There were heated scenes in the UK Parliament as Mr Johnson’s calls for an election were shouted down by opposition MPs who accused him of “lying and cheating”.

He claimed a new election is the only way to unblock Britain’s “paralysed Parliament”.

He also called on the opposition to table a no-confidence motion in his government as he refused to rule out a second prorogation of Parliament.

Asked whether he would respect the legislation requiring him to seek an extension if no deal is secured, Mr Johnson replied: “We will of course obey the law and we will come out of the EU on October 31.”

However, even if the prime minister is humiliated into asking the EU for a delay, there is no guarantee it would be granted.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: "There are a lot of other European countries, though, that are increasingly sceptical about whether there should be an extension or not, and would want it to happen for a good reason.

"But I think we are a couple of weeks away from that scenario arising.

"Certainly I would rather see a deal being ratified so that we can end the uncertainty that has been affecting citizens and business for far too long now."

As the chaos continued, the DUP called for tariffs to be applied on goods moving from the Republic into Northern Ireland if there is a disorderly Brexit.

Backdoor

MP Sammy Wilson said that if the Republic puts checks in place, then they must be replicated within the Six Counties.

The UK government has repeatedly stated it will not create checkpoints on this island regardless of the outcome of the tortuous Brexit negotiations.

But Mr Wilson said: "The current approach by the government places Northern Ireland businesses at a disadvantage, will lead to a loss of tax revenue, make Northern Ireland a backdoor to Great Britain and alleviates pressure on the Republic of Ireland to reach a sensible deal.

"This would be the same Irish Government which has displayed incredible intransigence throughout these negotiations," he said.

The Irish Government has said it needed to protect its place within the EU single market by carrying out checks in a no-deal scenario.

British officials yesterday submitted another set of proposals for how to maintain an open Border without the backstop.

However, sources say the documents do not amount to a workable, legal alternative to the existing deal.

On the fringes of a UN summit in New York, Mr Coveney challenged the UK prime minister to come up with a real solution.

He expressed frustration that Ireland is spending "hundreds of millions" to prepare for Brexit which is a "problem that is not of our making and that we disagree with".

He warned that if a hard Brexit results in two different regulatory systems in Ireland, "you have to have Border infrastructures".

"We are spending a huge amount of our own money and a huge amount of our time and effort and political currency across the European Union in trying to solve a problem that is not of our making and that we disagree with and don't see the sense of, but respect because it was made democratically," he said.

Meetings between Irish and EU officials about the type of Border checks that will be required in the event of a no-deal Brexit are continuing.

It will take another "couple of weeks" before the plans are finalised.

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar said that Mr Johnson's government had not submitted any new proposals in writing as yet.

He said there had definitely been a change of policy due to the change of prime minister.

"Prime minister [Theresa] May and her government were very much for a close relationship with the single market, a single customs territory... whereas the new prime minister and his government are looking for a looser arrangement, something more akin to the relationship that the EU has with Canada," the Taoiseach added.

"That actually makes the backstop all the more important and all the more necessary."

Checks

Asked about Mr Coveney's remarks on border infrastructure, Mr Varadkar said: "Certainly in the event of no deal, if the UK leaves the EU and it leaves on WTO terms, then it will be necessary to have checks and controls at the ports and the airports and some near the Border as well - but that will be their decision not ours."

Although Mr Johnson remains determined to "get on" with Brexit at Halloween, his attorney general said yesterday that the government would comply with legislation that required him to seek a delay rather than pursue a no-deal approach.

Irish Independent

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