Wednesday 19 December 2018

Varadkar: 'It would be helpful if Boris came to see Border with his own eyes'

UK Chancellor Philip Hammond
UK Chancellor Philip Hammond

Philip Ryan and Cormac McQuinn

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said it would be "helpful" for leading Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson to visit the Irish Border to see for themselves how it is currently "invisible".

It comes as UK Chancellor Philip Hammond restated his government's commitment to avoiding a hard Border, and admitted there was no model anywhere in the world for the kind of post-Brexit arrangements the UK is seeking.

Remarks by Mr Johnson, the British foreign secretary, comparing the 500km Irish Border to the congestion charge boundaries in London were met with derision in recent weeks.

The British government wants to leave the customs union and has rejected a so-called 'backstop' option put forward by the EU which would see Northern Ireland remain in the customs union if a comprehensive deal can't be agreed with the UK.

During the first day of his trip to the US, Mr Varadkar said Mr Johnson and UK Brexit Minister David Davis would be "very welcome to visit the Border" and that such a trip could prove "helpful".

He said Northern Secretary Karen Bradley had already done so, as have a number of MPs and members of the House of Lords.

"I can't see anything negative in a British cabinet minister viewing the Border, seeing what it looks like," he said.

Mr Varadkar said the Government has good engagement with the British cabinet and has explained how the Brexit issues are unique to Ireland but, as "in any walk of life... sometimes you need to see things with your own eyes".

Last week Mr Varadkar rejected a suggestion by British Prime Minister Theresa May that the customs arrangement between the US and Canada was among possible models for the future arrangement in Ireland.

Mr Varadkar said when he visited the US-Canada border he saw "a hard border...with customs posts, people in uniforms with arms and dogs. That is definitely not a solution that we can entertain."

ITV presenter Robert Peston put it to Mr Hammond yesterday that there's "no model for the kind of border you want, anywhere in the world".

Mr Hammond replied: "No, there isn't and that's why no existing off-the-shelf model is going to deliver what we need to deliver here." He reiterated his government's commitment that there will be no border infrastructure in Ireland and claimed this could be done even if Britain does not remain in some form of customs union arrangement with the EU.

He said that currently differences in excise duties between Northern Ireland and Ireland are "policed by an intelligence-led approach with collaboration between police forces and customs authorities on both sides of the Border".

Fianna Fáil's Brexit spokesman Stephen Donnelly welcomed Mr Hammond's remarks in support of avoiding infrastructure on the Border. But he added: "Unfortunately the Brexit direction being taken by his Tory colleagues is going to make that very difficult."

He said the current arrangements for monitoring differences in excise duties are "not a solution" for a post-Brexit Border and potential divergences in tariffs and regulations are "much more complicated" than differences in excise.

Irish Independent

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business