Varadkar does not see US-Canada style ‘hard border’ as Brexit solution

Taoiseach says network of North American crossing posts costs over €1bn a year to run

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during a visit to a border post between the US and Canada on Tuesday.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during a visit to a border post between the US and Canada on Tuesday.

 

Canada and the United States share a “hard border” that is difficult to manage and poses problems for businesses, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Speaking after inspecting a crossing near Niagra Falls on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar effectively ruled out using a similar system as a model for the Irish Border after Britain leaves the European Union.

After his visit to the Queenstown-Lewistown, the Taoiseach said the crossing was “highly efficient” but he then added: “Make no mistake - it’s a hard border...There are armed guards, dogs, flags and checkpoints.”

The US-Canadian border has been held up by some of those in favour of Brexit as a model for the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Mr Varadkar said it cost the Canadian government more than €1 billion a year to operate 250 crossings, almost all of which are staffed.

He said the Canadians use a “trusted importers” system, which is similar to the “trusted trader” system proposed by the UK for the Irish border.

“They have been working to streamline the border crossings for years but it is still a highly complex operation,” he said of the Canadian system. “They use technology to help identify and stop prohibited goods such as firearms. Tradesmen who want to work on either side of the border can face particular challenges; each time they cross the border they have to go through a validation process.”

‘Regulations’

The Taoiseach said larger companies had “well established” processes for dealing with customs posts but that border officials told him “it can be much tougher for smaller firms to cope with the standards and regulations”.

“They are also different standards for agriculture-food goods between the US and Canada and that can pose its own problems,” he added. “It was a very interesting visit but it certainly left me in little doubt that the US Canada model would not be desirable on the island of Ireland.”

The Taoiseach made his visit as he concluded a trip to Canada.

He earlier called on Britain to produce a draft of a future trade deal it wants to strike with the European Union or after Brexit.

Mr Varadkar has said he is “ confused and puzzled” and added he would “like to see a draft or some detail on how that would be different from the single market and customs union”.

Famine

On the last day of his visit, Mr Varadkar also turned the sod on the development of Grasset Park in Toronto. The park memorialises Irish emigrants who arrived in the city during the famine and is named in honour of Dr George Robert Grasset, who was the chief attending surgeon at a hospital on the site of the small park in 1847.

The hospital was entirely dedicated that year to treating Irish who arrived off boats to Toronto and Dr Grasset died of typhus in 1847 from working in the hospital.

Mr Varadkar also welcomed the announcement of Toronto-Dominion (TD) Bank, Canada’s largest lender by assets, that it has chosen Ireland as its post-Brexit European hub.

“So it’s one of the upsides if you like of Brexit that Ireland is somewhere now that people can invest and be sure about policy into the future. What our tax rates are going to be, that we’re going to remain at the heart of the European Union, in the euro. And they join of course other firms like Barclays, Standard Life, Bank of America and others who’ve decided to build and develop their operations in Ireland.”