Saturday 20 July 2019

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

Margaritis Schinas
Margaritis Schinas

Group Political Editor

IT’S been there in black and white all along but we chose not to see.

The European Commission has never made a secret of the fact that a hard Brexit meant a hard border.

When the EU released its contingency plans last December it was accompanied by a ‘Questions and Answers’ section that laid out the reality.

The question:  “Will live animals and animal products be checked at the borders when entering the European Union from the United Kingdom after 29 March 2019 in case of no deal?”

The answer: “In case of no-deal, every consignment of live animals and animal products coming from the UK would have to undergo, as of the withdrawal date, checks in Union border inspection posts (BIPs) at the point of entry into the EU.”

Under pressure from reporters in Brussels today, EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas dumbed it down for us.

He said it’s “pretty obvious- you will have a hard border”.

Ireland, like other member states, would have to enforce EU customs and other checks on imports from Britain after Brexit in the absence of a special deal.

Of course, Transport Minister Shane Ross admitted as much last week before being lampooned by his Fine Gael colleagues.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney hinted at it in a private conversation that was caught on tape by Independent – but he sought to muddy the water afterwards.

But the time for constructive ambiguity is over. We are now too close to the edge to continue pretending it’ll be OK on the day.

The Government response to Mr Schinas was swift. First came a statement from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s spokesman, saying: “We will not accept a hard border on this island and therefore we are not planning for one.”

Then Mr Coveney and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe promptly arrived in front of the cameras outside Government Buildings.

By then UK and European media were buzzing with reports of the blunt but “obvious” statement from Brussels. Worryingly though, it was more of the same from Dublin.

Independent.ie asked Mr Coveney what it means to “not accept” a hard border.

His answer was at best a fudge or at worst a complete dodge.

The Tánaiste stuck to the well worn script that the backstop is the way to avoid a hard border, completely ignoring the reality that it has been roundly rejected in Westminster. About the only thing that London now agrees on is that the backstop will have to be amended.

“We cannot wish away this problem,” Mr Coveney said, while appearing to do exactly that.

He urged people to focus on getting the backstop approved by the House of Commons, something that seems impossible so long as the DUP are propping up the Conservative government.

An optimist will say that the EU, UK and Ireland can find an alternative to the backstop which respects the Good Friday Agreement. A hopeful analyst will suggest that the EU plans to give Ireland some time to get used to the idea of a border before the infrastructure arrives.  A pessimist will say that once March 29 passes, there is no alternative to a border.

The Government needs to tell us which of those three we are because right now it’s not good enough to stick our heads in the sand.

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