Tuesday 24 September 2019

Q&A: What would a hard Border mean for Ireland - and how likely are we to have one?


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Stock picture

Cormac McQuinn

Q: I thought there was a deal to avoid a hard Border in Ireland - what's become of that?

There is a deal agreed between the UK and EU that would do this. It involves all of the UK staying in a form of customs union with the EU, and the British cabinet signed off on it last Wednesday. However, there are serious doubts that it will be passed by Parliament. It is opposed by hard-line Brexiteers in British Prime Minister Theresa May's own Conservative Party and she may well face a vote of no confidence next week. The bulk of the Labour Party is also opposing the plan and the DUP - which Mrs May relies on to stay in power - isn't on board either.

Q: What happens if it doesn't make it through the House of Commons?

Then the UK, Ireland and the EU are facing into the stark prospect of a no-deal Brexit and chaos once Britain leaves the EU on March 29 next year.

Q: What would this mean for the Border?

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar himself conceded that it would be very difficult to avoid a hard Border if there's no deal. He said Ireland would be asked to implement EU laws to protect the single market and Britain would have to operate under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. WTO rules would mean tariffs on everything from food to electronics and fuel. Ultimately there would have to be a return of customs checks on goods.

Q: So will there be queues on the Border?

Potentially if that's where customs checks take place. However, all sides have insisted throughout the Brexit process that there should be no physical infrastructure on the Border due to the risk of it becoming a target for dissident Republican terror groups. The Government would seek to avoid this option at all costs but has so far refused to say how it would do this. Revenue's current system allows for some checks of non-EU goods to take place at approved premises away from ports and airports. That's one option.

Q: What about the wider effect of a no-deal Brexit?

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe previously warned of "major disruption" to the economy here if the UK crashes out of Europe with growth hit by up to 3.5pc in the medium term. Estimates on the number of jobs that would be lost range from 40,000 to 50,000. The agri-food, tourism and manufacturing sectors would be worst-hit.

Q: What has the government here done to prepare for a no-deal Brexit?

It won't specify measures that have been taken for a no-deal outcome but a rainy day fund has been set up and there are financial supports in the form of two €300m loan schemes for farmers and small businesses. There are plans to recruit up to 1,000 customs and veterinary officers at ports and airports.

Q: Is a no-deal Brexit inevitable?

Not yet. Mrs May is desperately battling to win support for the deal among the British public in the hope pressure will be brought to bear on MPs to back the agreement. But there will be nervous times in Dublin and Brussels as all eyes are on Westminster in the hope a deal that took two years of hard negotiations won't fall at the final hurdle.

Irish Independent

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