UK’s latest customs plans for NI border don’t add up, says Varadkar

 

Ireland support Mays Brexit progress
An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, in Stockholm to meet the Swedish Prime Minister said the latest British proposals don’t add up  Photo: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

 

Ireland has said part of the UK’s latest post-Brexit border proposals don’t add up.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, speaking in Stockholm, said the latest offer from Downing Street ‘falls short’.

Meanwhile Tánaiste, Foreign Minister and Ireland’s chief Brexit negotiator Simon Coveney told TDs that on the basis of those proposals alone, left unchanged, ‘there will be no deal’.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs that it was now up to the EU to show flexibility and compromise in response to “a genuine attempt to bridge the chasm”

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “No Labour MP could support such a reckless deal that will be used as a springboard to attack rights and standards in this country.”

Since his plan was published on Wednesday Mr Johnson has spoken to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Chair of the European Parliament Brexit Steering Group Guy Verhofstadt said it would be “nearly impossible” to approve the UK plan.

European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said “we have many questions on the text” of the Brexit proposal that “need to be answered by the UK and not the other way around”.

Mr Johnson’s plans would create a regulatory barrier for goods crossing the Irish Sea and create a customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – but Mr Johnson has insisted there would be no need for checks or infrastructure at the frontier.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he does not understand how these customs checks can be avoided between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Speaking in Stockholm after meeting the Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven, Mr Varadkar said Ireland could not agree to any deal which resulted in checks between it and Northern Ireland.

Mr Varadkar said: “I think there are two major obstacles.

“The first is the proposal on customs. I don’t fully understand how we can have Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in a separate customs union and somehow avoid there being tariffs and checks and customs posts between North and South.

“We need to tease that through. Secondly, the issue of consent and democracy is important. I said before any consent mechanism must reflect the views of the majority of people of Ireland and Northern Ireland and no one party, not my party, not Sinn Féin, not the DUP, should be in a position to veto what would be the will of the majority of Northern Ireland or Ireland.

“I think if we end up in a no-deal scenario, it may be the case that we have to live with no deal for a period of time. Ireland will do what is necessary to protect the single market and ensure our place in the single market is protected, protecting our jobs and economy and prosperity.

“Having to do that for a period of time while we negotiate a deal or while we pursue other solutions is very different to an Irish Government actually signing up in an international treaty putting in place checks between North and South and that is something that we can not contemplate.”

The Swedish premier, Mr Löfven, said he believes it is possible to get a deal and this week’s UK proposal a negotiating start point:

“Is it realistic, I can not give you a percentage but yes it is possible otherwise we would not work on it. EU is right now making an analysis and there are some question marks raised by Mr Juncker and issues raised by Taoiseach. This was a paper, a legal text, we can start the discussions now so let’s really make an effort.”

 

Earlier the Tánaiste Mr Coveney told the Dáil there will be no Brexit deal if the paper presented on by Mr Johnson is the final proposal.

He believed Mr Johnson genuinely wanted to make a deal but he “could forgive anyone for being sceptical” because of how badly the UK had treated Ireland thus far.

He told TDs: “If that is the final proposal there will be no deal. There are a number of fundamental problems with that proposal.

“I hope it will be a stepping stone”.

But there were serious problems with the proposals for customs checks and over the role for the Northern Ireland Executive and a veto for any party on whether to stay in the agreement.

The Tánaiste said there were some positives in the proposal including full regulatory alignment for goods, for agri-food products on the island of Ireland.

There are two significant problems, one of which was customs. “If you are insisting on the North being in a separate customs territory they raise the prospect of a customs check and we think that’s going to be a real problem”.

He said it did not deal with the commitment to no border infrastructure and it did not deliver on a commitment to an all-island economy.

Ireland’s approach to the negotiations would continue to be “calm, respectful but very firm on this”, he said.

Mr Johnson’s proposals would entail Northern Ireland leaving the EU customs union – or tariff-free trading area – but remaining aligned with the EU’s single market rules and standards, for all goods including agricultural and food products.

This would mean some checks on products and goods moving between Northern Ireland and the EU, but also customs checks on goods moving across the Border.

London insists most checks can be done electronically but some physical checks will be unavoidable.

Mr Varadkar disputed Mr Johnson’s claim that such checks are a merely “technical” matter: “I think it’s much more than a technical issue. It’s deeply political, it’s legal and the technical aspects are only a small part of it.”

“(On Customs) I don’t fully understand how we can have Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in a separate customs union and somehow avoid there being tariffs and checks and customs posts between North and South.

“We need to tease that through. Secondly, the issue of consent and democracy is important. I said before any consent mechanism must reflect the views of the majority of people of Ireland and Northern Ireland and no one party, not my party, not Sinn Féin, not the DUP, should be in a position to veto what would be the will of the majority of Northern Ireland or Ireland.

“I think if we end up in a no-deal scenario, it may be the case that we have to live with no deal for a period of time. Ireland will do what is necessary to protect the single market and ensure our place in the single market is protected, protecting our jobs and economy and prosperity.

 

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