Ireland to resist hard Border even if UK fails to get Brexit deal

Taoiseach to push for promise of no hard Border before next phase of Brexit talks begins

 British prime minister Theresa May and Leo Varadkar will hold a bilateral meeting on the margins of a summit in Gothenburg, Sweden. File photograph: AFP/Getty Images

British prime minister Theresa May and Leo Varadkar will hold a bilateral meeting on the margins of a summit in Gothenburg, Sweden. File photograph: AFP/Getty Images

 

The Government wants a commitment from Britain that there will be no hard Border in Ireland even in the event of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without an exit deal.

Senior Government sources have said they do not want the Border being used as a “gun” by Britain to pressure the EU into other concessions. Such a commitment now would remove that threat, it is suggested, and would help the Brexit talks progress.

The disclosure comes ahead of a day of intense contact between the British and Irish governments, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Theresa May holding a bilateral meeting on the margins of a summit in Gothenburg, Sweden.

The Government has repeatedly asked for solutions from the UK to border issues, and Mr Varadkar will repeat that point to Mrs May. Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney will also meet British foreign secretary Boris Johnson in Dublin.

Irish-specific issues

EU leaders will have to decide at the next meeting of the European Council in December if sufficient progress has been made on the so-called divorce bill, citizens’ rights and Irish-specific issues to allow the talks progress to the next phase. Phase two will focus on a transition period and the future trading relationship between the EU and the UK.

We are not going to abandon Northern Ireland, no matter what the outcome

Ministers believe compromise is close on the financial settlement and that Irish issues are the main stumbling block, providing maximum leverage for Ireland.

Britain has so far said that the Border can be dealt with in the second phase of the talks, according to sources.

While the Government acknowledges the exact detail of how the Border will operate cannot be finalised until the second phase, it wants proposals “in principle” from Britain.

This would include a commitment that there will not be a hard Border no matter what happens later in the Brexit talks, including a breakdown.

“We are not going to abandon Northern Ireland, no matter what the outcome,” a senior Government source said. The Government has said there must be no “regulatory divergence” between North and South, post-Brexit, in order to allow for a “functioning all-island economy”.

‘Unique circumstances’

Writing in today’s Irish Times, Mr Johnson says he understands “the importance of addressing the unique circumstances of Ireland, including the land border”.

“I know the concerns about the possible impact on businesses and livelihoods. And I realise that for Irish people, the future of the Border is not simply a matter of economics. Above all, there is the need to preserve the ties that exist between communities across the island of Ireland.”

Speaking at a meeting of the British-Irish chamber of commerce yesterday, former taoiseach Bertie Ahern said Irish influence will diminish once the talks progress to the second phase, because any EU decisions on the shape of an exit deal will be taken by qualified majority voting. The decision to progress the talks to the next phase must be unanimous, which gives Ireland a veto.

Mr Ahern said that if anyone “expects that when it comes to the cold light of day on trade issues that the EU 27 will break up over anything that is do with us, well, Christmas isn’t coming this year, folks”.

“We have power on our side to get as far as we can now. After it we have little power, but a lot of talk.”