‘Very difficult’ to avoid border infrastructure under no-deal Brexit
Simon Coveney says backstop is the solution to protecting the status quo in Ireland
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has admitted it would be “very difficult” to avoid border infrastructure in Ireland under a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Coveney said his focus remained on the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between the UK and the EU and the backstop insurance policy.
On Tuesday morning, a European Commission spokesman admitted Britain exiting the EU without a withdrawal agreement in March would lead to the imposition of a hard frontier between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The agreement negotiated by British prime minister Theresa May was resoundingly rejected by the House of Commons last week.
Mr Coveney told reporters in Dublin: “In the absence of the backstop and a withdrawal agreement we have a very difficult job to do to prevent border infrastructure, but of course that would have to be our focus.”
Mr Coveney said: “As the debate on the backstop in Westminster continues this week I think the focus should be on this issue, to ensure that we do have a credible legal mechanism and a regulatory mechanism to prevent border infrastructure.
“That is called the backstop and many people seem to refer to the backstop as a political tool as opposed to a legal and regulatory mechanism to protect the important status quo on this island, which does not have any physical border infrastructure in the North.
“Our focus remains on that, that is the solution, that is how we prevent this issue becoming a real problem.”
Earlier, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said in a no-deal Brexit scenario “you will have a hard border”.
He declined to say whether the commission planned to publish a specific Irish “preparedness” note in line with the many published about other aspects of no-deal.
His comments are the first time the commission has explicitly acknowledged the reality that, despite the often expressed desire of Dublin and London to maintain a soft, frictionless border, a hard border is inevitable in the absence of a deal.
For months journalists have been asking the commission, the UK, and Irish Government spokespeople what would happen on the Border in the event of a no-deal.
The commission has refused to answer the question while the two governments have expressed their determination not to return to a hard border, without explaining how they would achieve that end.
In recent days Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been prepared to acknowledge the issue might pose problems with other member states with whom Dublin would have to have discussions. But, he said last week “We are not planning for checks on the land border in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Schinas went on the reaffirm the commission’s commitment to upholding the Belfast Agreement in all its elements and to the funding of the peace programmers in the North.
The Government released a statement in response, pointing to comments made by the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker when he addressed the Dáil last year.
“President Juncker told the Dáil last June: ‘We agree that there should be no return to a hard border, we need to preserve North-South institutions, and the Good Friday Agreement should be preserved in its entirety.’”
The Government also pointed to the British responsibility under the Belfast Agreement to ensure there was no return to a hard border.
“Regardless of Brexit, the British government will always have responsibilities as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement to ensure that, even in a no deal, there will not be a return to a border,” the statement said.
“There is a deal to ensure no return to a hard border in any circumstance in Ireland. That deal took 18-months to negotiate and has been ratified by the EU 27 and passed by the British Cabinet. We should keep the focus where it needs to be and that is Westminster deciding what it wants,” the Government statement said.
Also on Tuesday the Opposition accused the Government of being ill prepared for the effects of a no deal Brexit, with Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, describing preparations for how it will impact on Northern Ireland as “threadbare”.
“It is imperative also that there is sufficient contingency planning, that the State is in a state of readiness should there be a hard Brexit,” Ms McDonald said.
Lisa Chambers, the Fianna Fáil Brexit spokeswoman, said assuming the Article 50 negotiating period will be extended, which would see Brexit delayed past its date of March, is “dangerous”.
“In terms of domestic preparations when you look and see that Germany, France, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic to name but a few have all passed their Brexit emergency legislation, we haven’t even seen heads of Bill at this point. Additional reporting: PA