Wednesday 23 October 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Bogeyman' Juncker softens us up - but his real target is Britain'


Campaign: Protesters at the March to Remain in the EU for Peace and Climate Action in Edinburgh. PHOTO: ANDREW MILLIGAN/PA WIRE
Campaign: Protesters at the March to Remain in the EU for Peace and Climate Action in Edinburgh. PHOTO: ANDREW MILLIGAN/PA WIRE
Blunt words: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says Good Friday Agreement must be respected. Photo: AP
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

There was a time when if Jean-Claude Juncker mentioned a hard Border, the experts would conclude it was the EU turning the screw on Ireland.

It would be assumed that the big, bad EU was coming over to erect a Trump-style wall across the island.

But over the past three years, a majority of Irish people have come to understand the language of Brexit and more importantly the realities.

It's not that long ago that Tánaiste Simon Coveney lectured his Cabinet colleague Shane Ross for suggesting a Border could be introduced.

"Once you start talking about checks anywhere near the Border, people will start delving into that and all of a sudden we'll be the government that reintroduced a physical Border on the island of Ireland," Mr Coveney whispered back in January.

Now our EU colleagues are bluntly talking about such things, acknowledging that they will demand checks on animals and goods moving from Northern Ireland into the Republic.

But the EU Commission president was keen to add that the EU "is in no way responsible for any kind of consequences entailed by Brexit" as "that's a British decision".

"I'm not an architect of new border stations. The British have to tell us exactly the architectural nature of this Border," Mr Juncker said.

In other words, Ireland will put up the Border in order to protect the EU's single market - but it will be the UK's fault.

Mr Juncker's contribution may well have been an attempt to soften us up for a hard Border. But his presentation makes it obvious that first and foremost he is trying to turn the heat up on Britain.

At one point in his interview with Sky News, Mr Juncker lost his cool as it was put to him that he is a "bogeyman".

"That's a typical British lie. I'm elected by the European Parliament. The parliament does not only exist in Westminster," he said.

In fact, the former leader of Luxembourg made the point that every EU Commissioner in his team was elected at some point - except the UK's nominee.

"So stop this nonsense, this Farage nonsense," Mr Juncker said.

The Irish Government has given up trying to pretend that border checks can be avoided without a deal - even though ministers still stumble over the language.

The idea of a 'hard Border' is not part of the Irish vocabulary anymore. Instead, the Government focus is on whether checks will be 'near' or 'far away' from the Border.

Talks between the Irish side and EU officials about how to gradually introduce those checks are ongoing.

"An animal entering Northern Ireland without border control can enter without any kind of control the European Union via the southern part of the Irish island. This will not happen. We have to preserve the health and safety of our citizens," Mr Juncker said.

Likewise, the Irish Government has made it clear that if pressed it will preserve our place in the single market above all else.

It's likely that, with just over a month to go, the EU has a fairly well-developed plan but it won't be revealed until there is no other option.

This is another big week for Brexit as Boris Johnson prepares to meet a string of EU leaders at the UN. Back in the UK, the Supreme Court is mulling over whether the suspension of Parliament was done legally. On Wednesday, the PM will go into full-blown election mode for the Conservative Party conference.

Real progress is unlikely until that get-together is over.

Irish Independent

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