Border to be discussed between Ireland and EU as Brexit pressure intensifies

Merkel notes difficulties of protecting the Belfast Agreement in a no-deal situation

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has refused to engage with suggestions that an EU task force could be set up to deal with the Border in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Photograph: Getty Images

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has refused to engage with suggestions that an EU task force could be set up to deal with the Border in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Plans on how to deal with the Irish Border issue in the event of a no-deal Brexit are to be discussed urgently between the European Commission and Irish Government officials.

This comes after EU leaders at Friday’s European summit raised the need to protect the single market if the UK crashes out of the union without a deal. Several senior EU and Irish sources said there was a desire that the issue be prioritised immediately.

Senior Irish Government sources acknowledged preparations now needed to be intensified, but stressed EU leaders were also committed to keeping an open border in Ireland and protecting the Belfast Agreement.

The issue will be the subject of intense discussions over the next three weeks as EU leaders increasingly fear the prospects of a no-deal Brexit are rising, having made clear in private discussions that they have little faith in British prime minister Theresa May’s ability to secure the votes she needs in the Commons.

In a letter to MPs that emerged on Friday night, Mrs May hinted she might not bring her withdrawal deal back to parliament for a third time if there was not enough support for it to be passed.

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“If it appears there is not sufficient support to bring the deal back next week, or the house rejects it again, we can ask for another extension before April 12th – but that will involve holding European Parliament elections,” she wrote.

Private discussions

Three people briefed on the private discussions of EU leaders at the Brussels summit agreed there was “little optimism” that the UK could avoid a no-deal, and that preparations for that outcome would now accelerate, especially in the member states most closely affected.

German chancellor Angela Merkel raised the issue of the Irish Border during discussions on Thursday night, noting the difficulties of protecting the Belfast Agreement in a no-deal situation, said sources familiar with the notes of the meeting.

Asked about the issue on Friday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Ireland would seek to “uphold the Good Friday Agreement, keep the border with Northern Ireland open and still fulfil our obligations in European treaties to protect the single market and make sure Ireland is still fully a member of the single market and that the Border doesn’t become a backdoor to the single market”.

Mr Varadkar was speaking at the conclusion of the two-day summit.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Simon Coveney, speaking at the Fine Gael conference in Wexford, said there would need to be regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the Republic to keep the Border open even if there was no Brexit deal.

Regulatory alignment

“Whether there is a deal or no-deal, the way we will resolve these issues will involve some form of regulatory alignment. Even in the British paper which was published, which we didn’t have any input into, they’re effectively talking about the all-island economy not being interrupted by any form of checks. I think the UK government and the Irish Government and the EU Commission have thought about this issue as to how they would respond to it.

“But we haven’t had any interaction between all three parties because we still advocate for the solution that we know works, which is the backstop, as the fallback position unless we can negotiate a future relationship that is so comprehensive that it doesn’t involve border infrastructure. I think our position has been very, very consistent on that.”

Mr Coveney refused to engage with suggestions that an EU task force could be set up to deal with the Border in the event of a no-deal Brexit, while Mr Varadkar said: “There’s no task force being set up or anything of that nature.”

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