• It’s Brexiteers’ idea to leave the EU so let them show us how it can work and make economic sense, he says.
• But there is NO proposal to put a Border in the Irish Sea even though Ireland already carries out airport and seaport frontier checks for UK
• Find a political solution not a halfbaked technological one, says Ireland’s Foreign Minister Coveney
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said in no uncertain terms that Ireland will not help design a border for Brexiteers.
He also made clear there is no Irish proposal to make Irish Sea the new frontier with the UK after Brexit.
Such reports are based on Irish officials’ preference that if there must be frontier posts between the countries after Brexit it would be best that these be policed through customs and immigration at ports and airports.
This was actually first suggested by the British government last year when Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire suggested it to Irish officials. Predictably, it drew howls of protest from some of the more nationalist sections of Irish politics.
Now the same proposal has incensed DUP politicians – whose 10 MPs are propping Prime Minister Theresa May’s minority government in power because they do not want to have to show passports travelling from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.
Mr Varadkar’s bluntness has been attributed to Irish frustration and astonishment that the British government – and its Opposition – are not only inadequately prepared for Brexit negotiations, and do not even appear to know just what they want, but that NO consideration has been given to the Northern Ireland border.
To everyone’s dismay the Home Office admitted last week that more than a year after the Brexit Referendum no work has been done on how to prepare UK borders for after Brexit.
Mr Varadkar, whose own personal and party politics would chime with the Conservative Party leader Theresa May and who did not hide his pleasure at meeting her in Downing Street within days of his becoming Taoiseach, was nevertheless very blunt when he spoke to Irish political reporters at the weekend.
Rejecting concerns that a sea border plan would anger Westminster or Unionists in the north, he said: “If anyone is angry, it should be us.”
“What we’re not going to do is to design a border for the Brexiteers because they’re the ones who want a border.
“It’s up to them to say what it is, say how it would work and first of all convince their own people, their own voters that this is actually a good idea.
“Currently there is no economic border. There hasn’t been an economic border since 1992. As far as this government is concerned there shouldn’t be an economic border. We don’t want one.
“It’s the United Kingdom, it’s Britain that has decided to leave and if they want to put forward smart solutions, technological solutions for borders of the future and all of that that’s up to them.
“We’re not going to be doing that work for them because we don’t think there should be an economic border at all. That is our position.
“It’s our position in negotiations with the British Government and it’s the very clear position that we have when we engage with the task force that is negotiating on our behalf with the United Kingdom.
“We do not think it is in the interests of our country. We do not think it’s in the interests of Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom that there should be an economic border between our two countries or on our island and we’re not going to be helping them to design some sort of border that we don’t believe should exist in the first place.
“So let them put forward their proposals as to how they think a border should operate and then we’ll ask them if they really think this is such a good idea because I think it will have a very severe impact on their economy if they decide to go down that route.”
Mr Varadkar said that he had enlisted the support of Scottish and Welsh First Ministers Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones to lobby for Britain to “try to keep the door open” to staying in the EU’s Customs Union.
Leaving the Customs Union would just turn the Northern Irish border into a potential smuggling route. Ms Sturgeon and Mr Jones had “committed to use their influence with the government in Whitehall and their influence with their own parties, the Labour party and the SNP in Westminster to try to push the United Kingdom in that direction, towards a soft Brexit, towards retaining free trade,” he said.
Ireland’s Foreign Minister and former MEP Simon Coveney, whom Mr Varadkar beat in their party’s leadership race, said the governments should not be talking about technological solutions for manning the Border but political ones and “flexible and imaginative” ones at that.
And for the avoidance of any doubt he spelt out: “There is no proposal that is suggesting that there be a border in the Irish Sea.”
But this did not stop Northern Ireland’s DUP from threatening to use its alliance with Theresa May to block any such proposals should they emerge.
In a letter to The Times, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP’s chief whip in Westminster, said: “The apparent hardening of attitudes within the Irish government is untimely and unhelpful.
“The DUP will not tolerate a post-Brexit border on the Irish Sea that makes it more difficult to live, work and travel between different parts of the United Kingdom.
“At Westminster we will continue to use the influence of our ten MPs to ensure that respect for the integrity of the UK remains at the core of the negotiations process.”
Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s Commons leader, warned Mr Varadkar of dire consequences if he pursued a sea border: “The Irish government has every right to advocate for their economy and citizens in the ongoing talks. “However, it is wrong that peace in Northern Ireland should be exploited in this way.”
He described Mr Varadkar’s comments as “unhelpful towards progressing talks aimed at restoring devolution Stormont”.
In September the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who has already personally visited areas that would be affected by any return to a hard Border, will publish a position paper on north-south co-operation under the Good Friday Agreement covering farming, education, health, and the rights of citizens to travel and work between the north and the republic.