Taoiseach says nobody can say what will happen to Border in no-deal Brexit

Britain will be held to commitments to ensure free movement after Brexit ­­– Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo  Varadkar said talks with the European Commission had been taking place “at official level”. File photograph: PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said talks with the European Commission had been taking place “at official level”. File photograph: PA Wire

 

The Government will hold the British Government to its commitments to ensure free movement of people and trade post-Brexit, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar said: “We will hold the UK Government to its existing commitments ­­– its commitments in the Good Friday Agreement to ensure free movement of people and free trade north and south, its commitments made in 2017 to maintain full regulatory alignment.”

Mr Varadkar said talks with the European Commission had been taking place “at official level” exploring different contingencies which could exist.

However, he said nobody could say for sure what would happen to the Border between the Republic and Northern Ireland in the event of the UK crashing out of the EU.

“The truth is nobody can say for sure because a lot of it will depend on what approach the UK government takes,” he said.

Mr Varadkar had been challenged to “be transparent with the public” and state what Irish border-check preparations are being negotiated with the EU.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said it was high time Mr Varadkar gave the full outline of the implications for the border region in the event of a no-deal Brexit by the new April 12th deadline.

Mr Martin also called on the Taoiseach to “be up-front” about the ongoing contacts between the Government and the European Commission about how to manage the Border if there was no deal on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

But Mr Varadkar said the talks were only exploratory, there was nothing to reveal and there had been “no papers, no documents exchanged”.

He said it was clear no-deal Brexit would mean Irish border controls – the only question was about where and how such controls would be done.

“It’s time to be up-front and tell the people,” Mr Martin said.

The Fianna Fáil leader also highlighted the damage Brexit would do to the economy as revealed in a report by the economic think-tank, the ESRI, which said up to 80,000 Irish jobs could be lost if there was no deal.

And he challenged Mr Varadkar about his reported reply that “we can cope”, when asked at the EU Council meeting by French president Emmanuel Macron when asked about the implications for Ireland of no deal. Mr Martin said Mr Varadkar had not denied his reply.

Mr Varadkar in turned challenged the Fianna Fáil leader who had said a no-deal Brexit was to be avoided at all costs.

He asked if his party would be prepared to accept border checks as part of the cost of avoiding a no-deal Brexit as Mr Varadkar defended the Government’s approach to Brexit and the possibility of a no-deal result.

Mr Varadkar said while the ESRI report was a reminder “of the very stark consequences of Brexit”, the economy would continue to grow and there would be more jobs – not as many in the event of a no-deal ­­– and incomes would still increase, but not as high as if there was no Brexit.

Mr Varadkar highlighted preparations for Brexit including wide-ranging legislation for a no-deal which had been passed by the Dáil and Seanad and signed by the President.

Minister for Jobs Heather Humphreys and Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed would on Wednesday launch low-cost Brexit loans to businesses.

Mr Varadkar said there were ongoing contacts with the EU Commission but the details of handling a no-deal Brexit depended on the stance which the London government would take.

“There have been no papers, no documents exchanged,” Mr Varadkar said about Brussels-Dublin talks.

He said the Government and the EU would hold the UK to its commitments in the event of no deal including those in the Belfast Agreement and its pledges in the December 2017 Brexit agreement. – Additional reporting PA