Port delays likely under no-deal Brexit, warns Varadkar

Taoiseach says temporary structures set up at Dublin Airport and Dublin and Rosslare seaports

Varadkar: Potential delays at Dublin (pictured) and Rosslare ports. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Delays are likely at ports in Ireland and Britain following a no-deal Brexit, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned.

The two candidates to succeed Theresa May as prime minister and Tory leader, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, have both said the backstop should be removed from the Brexit withdrawal agreement, which the EU says will not be renegotiated.

This stipulation to remove a central part of the withdrawal agreement has increased the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit.

On Thursday Mr Varadkar said Ireland was ready for Brexit and that 700 extra officials had been employed and temporary structures set up at Dublin Airport and Dublin and Rosslare seaports.


However, he told RTÉ Radio’s Today With Sean O’Rourke show: “I cannot see there not being delays. This is a big change.

“Will there be delays at Dover and Calais? Absolutely. Will there be potential delays at Dublin and Rosslare? Yes. I think it will be the same, but it will work.”

The EU has given the United Kingdom an Article 50 extension until the end of October 31st, although newly elected European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has said she would back a further Brexit extension if requested.

Mr Varadkar said if there was no transitional agreement then customs and tariffs declarations could be made online and checks conducted at business level.

The Republic is proposing the island of Ireland be treated as a single unit for the purpose of checks at ports. The Taoiseach said the country’s next budget would focus on the challenges posed by Brexit.

Mr Varadkar reiterated his support for the Irish Border backstop, the insurance policy designed to keep Northern Ireland in line with Irish regulations. It is intended to prevent the imposition of checks on goods crossing the frontier if no wider trade deal is struck.

The issue is a red line for the DUP, which believes the backstop could threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom if it created divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Mr Varadkar suggested one solution to the backstop issue could be see it apply to Northern Ireland only. “We’re proposing that Ireland – north and south – be treated as a unit.”

He said the objective was avoiding a hard border. “I am willing to compromise if there is no hard border, there is a guarantee for the rights of Northern Ireland citizens, the preservation of North-South co-operation and the protection of the economy and the Good Friday Agreement. We will talk to see if they have any suggestions.”

There is a possibility of the UK parliament taking control of the agreement, the Conservatives have a majority of only three, that’s including the DUP and quite a few Conservatives would do anything to prevent a no deal.

“Circumstances can change, we have to hear from the UK prime minister before we set dates for action. We have yet to hear from the prime minister what they have in mind,” Mr Varadkar said.

“The withdrawal agreement is not something that was imposed on the UK.”

Mr Varadkar said he wanted to hear from the next British prime minister to discuss detailed plans. The winner of the Tory leadership contest will be announced next week.

Asked about when the detailed Brexit plans would be revealed, Mr Varadkar said it would happen “when we know ourselves. We will have to give businesses decent notice.

“If there is no deal then tariffs will have to be imposed – that can be done electronically. Checks are being done at ports already.

In a briefing on Wednesday to mark the end of the political term Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said provoking a general election in the coming months against the backdrop of a potential no-deal Brexit would be a “irresponsible”.

“I think the no-deal scenario opens up such potential economic disruption and is uncertain and cannot be foreseen, despite all of the analysis we’ve had in terms of what will happen, that I think it would be irresponsible to provoke a general election in the next number of months.”

He claimed the Government has not adequately prepared for the fallout of a no-deal Brexit but claimed there is a “lot of huffing and puffing” in public.

“I am told the ports are not ready. Dublin Port is not ready for a no-deal Brexit, despite what you hear. I am told by people who know the port . . . that mayhem will ensue. – Additional reporting: PA