IRELAND’S Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney, the country’s chief Brexit negotiator, has said he expects Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s border proposal at the Conservative Party Conference today ‘is not good news’.
Speaking some hours before Mr Johnson’s Wednesday address Mr Coveney said: “First of all we haven’t seen the proposals in detail yet, but certainly from the coverage last night in terms of what we’re likely to see today, it’s not good news.
“We don’t believe that customs checks on the island of Ireland will be the basis of an agreement between the EU and the UK but let’s wait and see the detail of the proposals when we get them later on and we’ll make a much fuller judgement at that stage.”
Mr Johnson has given several media interviews in which he has said there will have to be a customs frontier of some sort on the UK’s border in Ireland.
But the actual detailed proposals are not expected to be with officials in Brussels until around the time Mr Johnson makes his so-called ‘take it or leave it’ speech.
They will be presented by David Frost, the UK’s most senior diplomat responsible for negotiating Brexit in Brussels, to the European Commission’s Article 50 Task Force at some point this afternoon.
The text will be assessed by the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his team, and the outgoing Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Mr Barnier will then brief officials from the 27 member states through the so-called Brexit Working Party, and he will go on to brief the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group.
The Irish Government has already described the widely reported proposals from the British government as “concerning”.
The leaked plans say the UK is proposing to place Northern Ireland in a temporary regime with a time limit.
It wants customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on both sides of the Border, effectively two borders.
Dublin and Brussels fear the proposal – in that crude form – is known by London to be unacceptable, and deliberately so.
There would be a regulatory border in the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland active for four years and a second border for customs checks would be set up between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Northern Ireland would reportedly will remain in large parts of the European Union single market until at least 2025 but leave the EU customs union along with the rest of the UK.
Said Mr Coveney: “We’ll have to wait and see. Obviously we’ll study any proposal carefully, but if the reports are true it doesn’t look like the basis of an agreement, that’s for sure.
“Our position has been consistent, respectful and clear. If there is to be an alternative to the backstop it has got to do the same job as the backstop, which means no physical border infrastructure on the island of Ireland, and no related checks or controls.”
Earlier Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that proposals involving customs checks in Ireland would be “bad faith” on the part of the British government.
“If there is a proposal that involves customs checks on the island of Ireland, that in itself is bad faith given the commitments the British government has given both to Ireland and the EU over the last three years,” he said on Irish TV.