Border plan will be revealed to those affected - but I can't tell you when, says Hogan

  

Phil Hogan. Picture: Fergal Phillips
Phil Hogan. Picture: Fergal Phillips
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Ireland's EU Commissioner Phil Hogan is promising that businesses and Border communities will be told of plans to cope with a no-deal Brexit before the Halloween deadline.

But he won't say exactly when this will be done.

Asked if he will give a commitment that people who cross the Border will be told of no-deal arrangements with enough time to prepare, he replied only: "Yes."

"Don't be asking me about technical issues about days and hours," he said when pressed on how long before October 31 this would take place. "I'm not going to be held to that."

It came after Mr Hogan gave one of the strongest indications yet from the European Commission side that customs checks and controls to protect the EU single market could be allowed take place away from the Border.

However, his reluctance to offer further detail on worst-case scenario planning, just 70 days out from a possible no-deal Brexit, echoes the position of the Government in recent weeks.

He said much of what will happen at the Border depends on what the outcome of the negotiations are.

"We're not contemplating a no-deal or a crash-out," he said.

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He insisted there is still time for this to be avoided but said it's up to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to put forward his ideas to make sure there is a managed UK exit.

Meanwhile, he said there are ongoing negotiations between the Commission and the Irish Government "about all scenarios and we're ready".

Mr Hogan said the EU and UK have approved several pieces of legislation and he stressed there must be co-operation to ensure there is a transition and "major disruption" can be avoided.

He said: "We can't negotiate these issues about 'what if' unless we know what the outcome of the negotiations is going to be".

Mr Hogan conceded that "of course, the big issue on any day one [of Brexit] is going to be logistical difficulties" but, asked if chaos can be avoided, he replied: "Ask the UK."

Mr Hogan was highly critical of Mr Johnson in his prepared speaking points for his appearance at the Thomas D'Arcy McGee Summer School in Carlingford. The notes described Mr Johnson as an "unelected" prime minister who is "gambling" with the peace process.

In the end, none of these remarks made it into his brief two-minute address to the audience.

He went off-script to dispute DUP MP and fellow panellist Jeffrey Donaldson's assertion there has been an increasing "power-grab" by Brussels in recent years.

Mr Hogan used the rest of his speech to say much of the language in Mr Johnson's letter to EU leaders is already in the Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration and it "sounded very like the backstop".

Later, during the questions and answers session, Mr Hogan suggested it may be time to reconsider the original all-island, Northern Ireland-only approach to the backstop. He acknowledged that the DUP has difficulties with this option.

Mr Donaldson wasn't long in confirming his party's fervent opposition to a Northern Ireland-only backstop.

He argued a border down the Irish Sea would also create a "serious disruption" to the delicate constitutional balance in the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Hogan told the Irish Independent he believes there is scope to "clarify issues" and give reassurance to the DUP.

But he also highlighted the damage to the UK economy if there is a crash-out and suggested pressure may be put on the DUP to accept the original backstop plan then.

"Surely if the UK government, as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, is concerned about these issues... it will actually speak intensively with the DUP to get a compromise," he said.

Irish Independent


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