Monday 16 September 2019

'Major emergency': Leaked documents raise fears that hard Border will be reality

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay signs the commencement agreement for Britain to leave the EU. Photo: REUTERS
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay signs the commencement agreement for Britain to leave the EU. Photo: REUTERS
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

Ministers fear the country will be plunged into a "major national emergency" in a no-deal Brexit after leaked documents revealed the UK now expects a hard Border on the island of Ireland.

The dire warning appears in the UK's no-deal contingency planning, codenamed Operation Yellowhammer, which was published by the 'Sunday Times' yesterday.

The leaked papers warn that initial plans to deal with a hard Brexit on the Border will be unsustainable. The UK government is now operating on the basis that a hard Border will return.

The papers also warn of road blockades in the North after disruption to key sectors, including agri-food, and job losses, as well as an increase in smuggling and the potential for a disruption to electricity supply in the North.

The UK is facing food, fuel and medicine shortages, according to the papers.

Downing Street officials briefed that the papers pre-dated Boris Johnson becoming prime minister and the ramping up of no-deal preparations by his government.

But a senior Irish Government source said last night: "People might start realising that Leo Varadkar is not engaged in project fear as he has been accused of, but actually that in 74 days we face a major national emergency if this is not resolved."

Oireachtas Brexit committee chair and Fine Gael senator Neale Richmond said the leaked documents showed the UK rhetoric that it can simply walk away from issues "does not stack up".

"These documents merely lay out many of the very real challenges that a no-deal Brexit will present to the UK if they choose to crash out. Many of these challenges have been previously highlighted and unfortunately dismissed as 'project fear'.

"Well, unfortunately it seems 'project fear' is becoming 'operation chaos'," he said.

Fianna Fáil Brexit spokeswoman Lisa Chambers said the warnings were a "wake-up call" for the Government.

"Reports of food, fuel and medicine shortages in Britain will surely result in some form of contagion in Ireland because of our extensive use of the UK land bridge," she said.

"There needs to be a greater sense of urgency from the Government as well as more transparency about our level of preparedness for all Brexit eventualities."

Tánaiste Simon Coveney's spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. Mr Coveney tweeted yesterday: "Ireland has been respectful of the UK decision to leave the EU from the start, but has always been clear that border infrastructure on the Island of Ireland must be avoided. The backstop is the insurance, designed by UK/EU/IRL, to protect the peace process. That's why we need it."

An Irish Government source said that, in a no-deal Brexit, the EU policy is that peace and security on the Border are key. "These papers yet again underline the need for a managed Brexit, including the backstop insurance policy as set out in the Withdrawal Agreement.

"Our teams are working with the European Commission on the twin objective of avoiding checks at the Border and maintaining Ireland's place in our EU single market. However, any solution that is found will be far inferior to the backstop and the all-island economy is going to be badly hit."

Irish Independent

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