Sunday 25 August 2019

Remote Border checks can work even if there is a no-deal Brexit - Hogan

But DUP objections must be overcome to deliver ‘necessary protocols’

Growing concerns: Communities in the North fear the consequences of Brexit and a hard Border. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Growing concerns: Communities in the North fear the consequences of Brexit and a hard Border. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
John Downing

John Downing

A way can be found to avoid animal and food checks at the Border - even in the case of a no-deal Brexit, Ireland's EU Commissioner Phil Hogan has said.

Mr Hogan moved to allay reports of a growing view among Brussels officials that so-called phytosanitary checks, especially for live animals, cannot be avoided at the Border if the UK quits the EU without a deal on October 31.

Amid ongoing uncertainty in Britain, there is a growing acceptance that the risk of a no-deal Brexit has increased, with a result in the UK Conservative Party leadership election due next week.

But Mr Hogan also held out the hope that a new British prime minister - be it Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt - could deliver "a good Brexit outcome" this autumn. He insisted a no-deal result was far from inevitable.

The former Fine Gael minister has been nominated by the Government for a second five-year term in the EU policy-guiding Commission, but will continue as Agriculture Commissioner until November 1.

He said the entire island of Ireland was already treated as one entity for animal and public health issues.

"We'd like to continue that arrangement and I don't see any difficulty between the UK and the EU in respect of this," Mr Hogan told the Irish Independent. He said the UK has published 16 pieces of legislation, and the EU 19 draft laws, to allow a smooth transition dealing with Border issues on a "pragmatic basis".

Mr Hogan said animal health issues on the island of Ireland were the joint responsibility of the Dublin authorities and the Northern Ireland Office which reported to the EU in Brussels.

"Even in a no-deal situation, we can put in place the necessary protocols so this would not be a problem," he said.

He said that 55pc of products coming from Britain to Northern Ireland went via Dublin Port where they could be checked. There could also be a system of checks at point of origin and at the point of destination.

The Commissioner said that the EU and UK could also enter into negotiations on protocols allowing the UK authorities, as a non-EU member, to conduct checks on behalf of the Brussels authorities. Finally, the EU could itself do spot checks to reinforce control systems.

"These are all proposals which are on the table. But for political reasons - particularly due to objections from the Democratic Unionist Party - they have not been treated as reasonable and pragmatic," Mr Hogan added.

This is a reference to the DUP's insistence that there can be no special treatment for the North as Brexit happens.

The Irish Commissioner dismissed suggestions that Dublin should "make a gesture to the UK on the backstop" to help defuse the stand-off.

"This suggestion is motivated by a diplomatic offensive by the UK in recent times. But there will be no change in the Withdrawal Agreement or the backstop," he insisted.

The EU Commissioner, who last week met with UK Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, said the UK Conservative leadership contest had not made prospects of a Brexit solution more difficult.

He noted that neither Mr Johnson nor Mr Hunt "gave any hostages" that would harm resumed talks on a solution this autumn.

"I detect a willingness on behalf of the UK to make another big effort in the autumn to find a solution," Mr Hogan said.

Many EU reassurances were possible for the UK - but they would have to be in the accompanying declaration on negotiations for a future relationship as the withdrawal deal was fixed.

Mr Hogan repeated his trenchant defence of the draft EU-Mercosur deal which has enraged farmer unions. He said he understood beef farmers' fears but there would be no undercutting of EU animal and environmental standards for South American beef imports and this would be reflected in final legal texts.

He also said there would be a €1bn fund to support farmers hit by trade distortions. "This is the first trade deal to have an accompanying compensation fund - many farmers do not appreciate this," he said.

"I understand the concerns of beef farmers, but they should not be frightened by misinformation and some irresponsible commentary about what the deal contains. Farmers should look carefully at all the strict conditions which are there to protect them."

Irish Independent

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