Sunday 18 August 2019

Merkel's message: 'We simply have to stop a hard Border'

German leader ‘still has hope of a good ending’, but EU official insists disorderly Brexit almost inevitable

Greeting: Ms Merkel signs the visitors’ book at Farmleigh as Leo Varadkar looks on. Picture: Maxwells
Greeting: Ms Merkel signs the visitors’ book at Farmleigh as Leo Varadkar looks on. Picture: Maxwells

Kevin Doyle and Cormac McQuinn

German Chancellor Angela Merkel recalled memories of her life behind the Berlin Wall as she promised to do everything possible to prevent a hard Border.

At a private meeting with businesspeople and activists from the Border region, Ms Merkel told how while growing up she was separated from her grandmother by the wall. Her first visit to Dublin in five years was described by those present as "emotional".

In a public message the Taoiseach hopes will carry weight across Europe, Ms Merkel said she understood why Irish people were so desperate to hold on to peace.

"We will simply have to be able to do this. We have to be successful and we hope for a solution that we can agree together with Britain," she said.

After what she described as a "very moving" meeting with representatives of Border communities, the chancellor said she would work "until the very last hour" to secure a Brexit deal.

"For 34 years I lived behind the Iron Curtain, so I know only too well what it means once borders vanish, once walls fall.

"We need to do everything to bring about a peaceful co-­operation," she said.

However, her comments came against a backdrop of continuing uncertainty in the UK and growing fears in Brussels that a disorderly Brexit is becoming inevitable.

A leading European Union official said yesterday he could not rule out the prospect of customs points being built on this island.

Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen said "a hard Brexit is increasingly possible".

Asked whether Border posts would be needed between the Republic and Northern Ireland, he said the aim was to ensure that checks were done "away from the Border, if at all possible".

Senior officials were also briefing that checks on animals and food produce, including milk, will have to take place.

The potential for a 'milk lake' has even been raised as farmers who currently sell diary products will no longer be able to send their produce across the Border. The EU will not accept creamery tanks containing "mixed EU and third-country milk".

At Farmleigh House, Ms Merkel was pressed on how it could be possible for Ireland to uphold the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and protect the single market.

While she refused to outline a solution to the problem, she said: "I heard that you have the same saying as what we say in Germany: 'Where there's a will there's a way'.

"We are working on this and we have very good partners in the Commission, with Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker, who are putting everything into finding a good ending, finding mutual solutions, so we will find this together.

"We still hope, obviously, for an orderly Brexit."

Ms Merkel said her discussions in Dublin had encouraged her "to explore for ways and means to continue to ensure this peaceful coexistence that you have worked so hard for".

Her comments came two days after French President Emmanuel Macron said his country would "never abandon" Ireland.

Government sources last night said the solidarity being shown by the two superpowers means "Ireland's standing in the EU Council is as strong as it ever was".

A source said they hoped the chancellor now understood the emotional aspects linked to the Border as well as the technical side of the Good Friday Agreement.

EU leaders will meet in Brussels next Wednesday to decide whether to grant the UK another Brexit extension.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it was "not possible to have a clear plan" for what happens if the UK crashes out.

He said the EU was prepared to amend the terms for the future trade talks with the UK if Prime Minister Theresa May shifted her red lines.

"Both Ireland and Germany want to have a future relationship with the UK which is close and comprehensive and as deep as possible, and we would like to see the Withdrawal Agreement ratified so that we can begin the negotiations on a new economic and security partnership without further delay," he said.

"There is very little time left and we have to prepare ourselves for all outcomes."

Irish Independent

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