Taoiseach expects checks at Northern Ireland ports in no-deal Brexit scenario
Leo Varadkar says any European leader exercising veto would not be forgiven for it
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at a press event in Dublin on Saturday. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
The UK will crash out of the European Union without a deal on April 12th unless it can somehow get the backing of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement or secure a further delay. Theresa May has requested an extension until June 30th, but this needs the backing of all 27 member states.
If the UK leaves without a deal, the Border in Ireland will become the only land frontier between the EU and the UK a scenario that raises the prospect of a return of physical border infrastructure.
Mr Varadkar believes Britain will treat Northern Ireland differently as it has said it would do when it announced its tariff regimes last month. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the British government said there would be no tariffs on goods arriving from the Republic and remaining in Northern Ireland.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Countrywide programme, Mr Varadkar said: “Even in the event of no-deal, we will still be saying to the British that you still have obligations under the Good Friday Agreement.
“You committed to full regulatory alignment back in December 2017 and we still want the arrangements in the backstop to apply.”
Mr Varadkar continued to defend the backstop which was included in the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement but has been rejected by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) because it will mean Northern Ireland will continue to be part of the customs union while other parts of the UK will not. This measure would see fierce opposition from unionists who would view it as treating Northern Ireland differently to other parts of the United Kingdom because it would effectively create a border down the Irish sea.
The backstop is an insurance policy that would keep the Border open in the even of no trade agreement being reached during the transition period contained in the the Withdrawal Agreement.
When questioned as to how a hard Border can be avoided in the event of a no-deal Brexit next Friday, Mr Varadkar said any arrangements which immediately follow on from that would be temporary.
He added: “The UK has already suggested in its no deal planning that it would treat Northern Ireland differently from Great Britain and that opens up the potential to have checks at Larne and Belfast which is the logical place to have them of course and not on the land border,” he explained.
“There is a reason why we had the backstop. We did think about all of this already.”
Mr Varadkar envisaged that none of the 27 EU countries will object to a further extension as requested by British prime minister Theresa May this week.
He said the European Council operates by consensus and in his two years of attending European Council meetings no country has used the veto.
Many member states were frustrated, he suggested, by the time that Brexit was taking up especially among countries that will not be badly affected by it. However, he added that all understood the potential impact of Brexit on Ireland and countries such as France and the Netherlands.
Mr Varadkar believed that any European leader who exercised his or her veto would not be forgiven for it.
“They would know that they would find themselves on the end of that particular veto power in future. It is extremely unlikely that I could see any country vetoing it,” he said.
“The likelihood is a further extension, but we want to avoid an extension which allows for more indecision and uncertainty. I would prefer to see a longer extension so the UK could have time to decide what future relationship it would have with the European Union rather than the alternative which could be rolling extensions.”
He suggested his own preference was for a longer extension than the June 30th date proposed by the UK.
He also revealed that if Britain is granted a longer extension and takes part in European elections there will need to be two counts in the European elections in both the Dublin and Ireland South constituencies.
Ireland has been allocated two extra seats following the redistribution of the UK’s seats once the country voted for Brexit.
It was not envisaged that Britain would still be a member of the EU at the time of the 2019 European elections which means that the last MEPs elected in both constituencies will not be able to take up their seats until Britain finally leaves.
This will necessitate two counts. In Dublin it will mean counting for three seats and then separately for four. In Ireland south it will mean counting for four seats and then separately for five.