Leo rules out 'technical fix' in place of border checks
'Some form of customs union' needed if UK and Ireland are to avoid controls at frontier
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted there is no "technical fix" to replace the need for post-Brexit border controls in the North if Britain leaves the EU custom union.
Mr Varadkar said Britain and Ireland's aim of avoiding the need for border controls could be achieved only with "some form of customs union".
In his first comments since the publication of the UK's Brexit papers, he told the Sunday Independent: "In the absence of a customs union or customs partnership, if you prefer that term, I don't see how some technical fix can completely avoid border checks, new friction, extra bureaucracy and inevitable delays and costs to businesses and farmers."
The Taoiseach also warned that any form of physical border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland would pose a serious threat to the peace process. "That, in turn, can only cause instability within the fragile and incomplete peace process on this island," he said.
Senior Department of Justice sources echoed the Taoiseach's comments and warned that any physical border controls would be targeted by dissident republicans seeking to replicate attacks by the Provisional IRA during the Troubles.
"They are always trying to mirror Provo attacks and border controls would be a red rag to a bull," one source said.
Last night, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the border issue could be resolved only with a "unique political arrangement".
He added that this could see an extension of the customs union or a partnership union between the EU and Northern Ireland.
"The only way you can maintain an invisible border is if you create equivalence on both sides of the border," Mr Coveney told the Sunday Independent.
"Northern Ireland can only have seamless relations with the Republic of Ireland if we get a political agreement that doesn't have any precedent, and allows for equivalence North and South and therefore there are no need for checks."
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said that if Britain signed up to the EU's food safety regulations they could form a customs union. However, they would not be able to enter into trade arrangements with countries with lower standards.
"You can't do trade agreements and bring in chlorinated chicken from America or hormone-treated beef or beef from South America," Mr Creed said.
"If you are talking about equivalent of standards it's not stretching the imagination a whole lot to bring that into a form of customs union."
Meanwhile, a senior government source said Britain was seeking a transitional period from exiting the EU to allow Downing Street to negotiate trade deals with other countries outside the union.
Last week, British Chancellor Philip Hammond and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said they wanted a time-limited transition period to avoid a "cliff-edge" Brexit and to allow UK companies to adjust to the impact of the referendum result.
"They believe they can use the time-limited period to negotiate better trade deals with other parts of the world than they have already through their membership of the EU," a government source said.
"The reality is, however, that sooner or later the UK will have to weigh up the pro and cons to their economy in continuing to have free flowing trade with the EU versus any improved trading arrangements that they believe they can negotiate bilaterally with other countries," the source added.