Minister fails to answer questions about hard border 15 times

RTÉ’s Michael Creed interview has echoes of infamous Paxman grilling of Howard

 Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine Michael Creed: accused of treating listeners as if they were ‘stupid’. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine Michael Creed: accused of treating listeners as if they were ‘stupid’. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed failed 15 times to answer a radio presenter’s questions about the imposition of a hard border on the island of Ireland.

In a testy exchange on Morning Ireland - which had echoes of the infamous Jeremy Paxman interview in 1997 with Michael Howard, in which the former Conservative Party leader was asked the same question more than a dozen times - Mr Creed failed on 15 different occasions to answer how checks on live animals and food products crossing the Border would be carried out in the event of a no-deal Bexit.

The presenter of the RTÉ Radio One programme Audrey Carville challenged Mr Creed on remarks made by the European Commission that there will have to be a hard border in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Creed said the remarks made by the commission’s chief spokesman Mararitis Schinas had a lot of “conditionality” attached and did not automatically mean there would be a hard border.

He insisted that the Withdrawal Agreement was still the basis for ensuring that there will be no hard border, despite the fact it had been resoundingly rejected by MPs in Westminster.

“What is abundantly clear ... is that there is no dimunition of the commitment from Brussels and the Commission to the Withdrawal Agreement at present,” he said.

Limited time

The focus, he added, should stay on Westminster. “We have negotiated an agreement which deals with the border with the UK Government,” he said.

“Minister, we have a limited amount of time,” Carville countered. “We are not talking about the Withdrawal Agreement. We are talking about the scenario of a no-deal.”

She pointed out that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Commission has stated in “black and white” that every consignment of live animals crossing the Border would have to be checked.

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Mr Creed responded by stating that the island of Ireland was treated as one as a security area for checks on animal imports.

“Yes, but we are both members of the EU at the moment,” Carville pointed out.

Mr Creed repeated that the focus should be on what the UK will do and the border scenario will be dealt with if ithe country decides to stay in the customs union or single market.

Carville replied: “I must repeat, Minister, we are talking about a no-deal Brexit. What will happen on March 30th when a tanker load of milk leaves Lacpatrick Dairy in Tyrone to deliver to Donegal. Who will check that tanker load of milk?”

She repeated the same question twice more.

Mr Creed reiterated that the practicalities of the border issue were contained in the Withdrawal Agreement, but then admitted: “If there were easy answers to all of these questions, they would have been found a long time ago.”

Carville pressed him on her original question about the tanker load of milk. “We do not envisage under any circumstances - any border infrastructure,” Mr Creed said, “we have made that an imperative from the outset”.

Once again Carville returned to her question about the tanker and once again, Mr Creed said it was an issue that was dealt with in the Withdrawal Agreement.

“There must be a concluded, definitive response from the UK parliament from the proposals to deal with their exit from the European Union, ” he said.

Carville repeated the question about the tanker load of milk for a fifth time and then a sixth time and again Mr Creed reitered that the solution was contained in the Withdrawal Agreement.

Exasperated

An apparently exasperated Carville responded: “Many people listening to you this morning might think that you are treating us all as if we were stupid.

“Minister please, with respect, all of us who are invested in this, which is most of the country, understands that is not the case. The Withdrawal Agreement does not deal with a no-deal Brexit. I am asking you in the event of a no-deal Brexit, who will do the checking on the animals and the products?”

Mr Creed said provision was being made for east-west border checks in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but Carville pointed out this did not cover north-south border checks.

Mr Creed responded: “Again we share the view of the Commission as clearly articulated as late as next Monday, that the Commission’s proposal is not to introduce hard border infrastructure”.

The next move was in the court of the United Kingdom, he added.