Wednesday 22 January 2020

Varadkar's Border proposal dismissed as 'incoherent' by leading economist

British PM Theresa May 'could provide proposals this week'. Photo: PA
British PM Theresa May 'could provide proposals this week'. Photo: PA

Steven Alexander and Cormac McQuinn

An economist who advised former Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble has lambasted the Taoiseach's proposals for the Border after Brexit as "incoherent".

Dr Graham Gudgin noted that Leo Varadkar failed to mention his controversial plan to move the Border to the Irish Sea - with customs checks at ports and airports - during his visit to Belfast on Friday, and said "hopefully this is the last we will hear of it".

Mr Varadkar recently angered Northern unionists when he said the Republic would not help design an economic border for Brexiteers. The Fine Gael leader attempted to shift the onus for designing a solution to border movement firmly onto the UK, insisting he was not going to "design a border for the Brexiteers because they're the ones who want a border".

Dr Gudgin, now chief economic adviser at centre-right think tank Policy Exchange, said: "This new tough line from Dublin on the Irish Border is an unhelpful change of direction on an already complex issue. The Taoiseach's decision to cease work on a potential electronic border is particularly unwelcome.

"Varadkar's call last week for the Border to be moved to the Irish Sea is incoherent. Hopefully, this is the last we will hear of it."

Speaking at Queen's University in Belfast, Mr Varadkar had said one solution could be the establishment of an EU-UK customs union. The Taoiseach also suggested that, if the UK does not want to stay in the single market, it could enter into a deep Free Trade Agreement with the EU and rejoin the European Free Trade Association.

Dr Gudgin said a bespoke customs union deal with the EU would require a special dispensation from the EU to allow the UK to agree new trade deals with third countries: "A UK-EU free trade agreement remains the most likely outcome of the Brexit negotiations, albeit after a transition period, but with little thanks to the Irish."

Meanwhile, the Government has been cautious in its response to the prospect of British Prime Minister Theresa May's administration potentially providing proposed solutions for the post-Brexit Border arrangements as early as this week.

The 'Sunday Telegraph' reported that the position papers outlining the approach to future customs arrangements could be published this week. It also cited Whitehall sources who suggested the UK government is prepared to pay as much as £36bn (€40bn) as a 'divorce' settlement, provided it is part of a deal on future trade arrangements with the EU.

Last night, a Government spokesman said it wouldn't be appropriate to comment on "speculation". "As the Taoiseach said in Belfast, the Government will do all we can, in Brussels, in London and in Dublin, to achieve the best outcome for everyone on this island - to protect our peace, our freedom, our rights, and our prosperity," the spokesman added.

Irish Independent

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