Monday 14 October 2019

Taoiseach: Customs checks could be near border in no-deal Brexit

  • If UK crashes out on October 31 there will have to be checks on goods coming into Ireland at the ports, airports, and 'perhaps' at businesses and 'near the border'
  • Taoiseach makes comments as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he will know within days if a Brexit deal is possible, as he prepares to table a proposal to the EU
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo by Steve Humphreys
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo by Steve Humphreys

Hugh O'Connell and Kevin Doyle

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has restated that there could be customs checks near the Irish border in the event of a no-deal Brexit at the end of this month.

Mr Varadkar said that if the UK crashes out on October 31 there will have to be checks on goods coming into Ireland at the ports, airports, and "perhaps" at businesses and "near the border".

"If we face no deal on the 31 October, if the UK decides - and it will be their decision - to leave the European Union without a deal and operate on WTO [World Trade Organisation] rules then there will be checks at the ports, at the airports, perhaps at business level, perhaps near the border too and that’s just the reality of the situation but that is in the context of no deal," he told the Dáil.

Mr Varadkar made the comments after welcoming UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s dismissal of a leaked UK government proposal to install customs checks near the border as part of a new Brexit deal.

The proposal in so-called non-papers submitted to the EU’s Brexit negotiators raised the possibility of customs posts being installed eight to 15km back from the border where checks and controls would be carried out.

Mr Johnson said this morning that these leaked plans were previous proposals from his government and would not form part of alternatives to the backstop that his negotiators will table in Brussels later this week after the Conservative Party conference which is taking place in Manchester.

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions, Mr Varadkar said: "I do very much welcome Prime Minister Johnson’s words today when he disowned and distanced himself from those non-papers. Had he not in my view it would have been hard evidence of bad faith on behalf of the British government."

Mr Varadkar said that he expected the UK government to live up to its commitments in the withdrawal agreement to maintaining a frictionless border between North and South and urged anyone in favour of customs posts near the border to heed the criticism of the leaked plans from business groups in Northern Ireland.

He said the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI) in the North had described the proposals as "an absolute disgrace" and that the Freight Trade Association had said the proposals "contradict" all the advice it has given to the UK government.

"I would ask anyone in the British establishment who thinks this is in anyway a good idea to listen to the voices of Northern Ireland, to businesses, to farmers to people in Northern Ireland," he said.

"They are saying no to customs posts between north and south, we are saying no to customs posts between north and south and no British government should try to impose on Ireland a solution opposed by people north and south."

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he will know within days if a Brexit deal is possible, as he prepares to table a proposal to the EU.

The Prime Minister's formal proposals are due to be submitted to Brussels later this week and Mr Johnson said it would soon become apparent if there is "no way of getting it over the line from their point of view".

Mr Johnson urged leaders in Brussels, Dublin and Berlin to work with him as the "rubber hits the road" on efforts to strike a deal ahead of the October 31 scheduled Brexit date.

EU sources told Independent.ie tonight that the UK proposal fell well short of what is required.

Although the UK government briefed a number of European capitals, Ireland did not make its priority list.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney described the reports are "concerning" and "worrying".

He said anything that involved customs checks on the island of Ireland amounted to "bad faith" given the commitments the UK have made not to introduce border infrastructure.

"As far back as December 2017 there was an absolute guarantee given to Ireland that there would be no border checks in the future, no related checks and that the all-island economy would be protected in the future as the default position through regulatory alignment if there couldn’t be a political agreement on something else," Mr Coveney told Virgin Media’s ‘The Tonight Show’.

He said the backstop was always supposed to be temporary but could only end when another mechanism was found for keeping the border open.

The Tánaiste repeated the well-worn Irish position that a backstop with a time-limit was not a backstop at all.

"We are not going to sign up to or acquiesce to managed border infrastructure as a permanent arrangement on the island of Ireland which will fundamentally undermine and disrupt the economy," he said.

Mr Coveney said that if a no deal results in a hard border that will be the choice of the UK government.

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