Ireland will prioritise single market integrity over frictionless Border

If Dublin’s great fear comes to pass, Ministers are clear about which choice they will make

Not everyone is transfixed by the extraordinary spectacle unfolding in Westminster. Lots of people are very much getting on with preparing for Brexit.

In Brussels on Wednesday, the European Commission published its final no-deal planning document, which updates a number of previous editions. There is some expectation in London that the commission will work with the UK to prepare for no-deal, but as yesterday's document again makes clear, EU no-deal preparations are made unilaterally and to protect the EU. They will not take into account the UK's wishes or needs.

Elsewhere in London the respected think-tank UK in a Changing Europe published its assessment of a no-deal Brexit, warning that half of UK exports would face disruption, that Northern Ireland would be "particularly badly hit", that the UK's international reputation would suffer and that any deal about future trade with the EU would be much more difficult after a crash-out on October 31st. Moreover, it warned that some of these effects would manifest themselves immediately on November 1st.

And in Dublin, at Tuesday evening's Cabinet meeting, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney briefed his colleagues on the latest assessments on a no-deal – warnings that left some Ministers quite taken aback about the severity of the impending events.


Reluctant admission

The Government now admits that some checks on goods imported from the North will be required in order to protect the single market if there is a no-deal – an admission that it has been very reluctant to make for a long time. More detail on the nature of the checks is likely to be supplied in the coming weeks and perhaps as early as next week.

The checks – if they come – will be the physical manifestation of a very significant choice about the future of the country.

For months the Taoiseach and his Ministers – as well as the European Commission – have spoken about the twin priorities of the EU: to maintain an open border and to protect the single market.

But after a no-deal Brexit, these twin priorities will conflict with one another. The more you protect the single market, the less open the border is. This is the dilemma the Government now wrestles with.

Clear priority

But according to people at the centre of Government the priority is clear: Ireland must protect its place in the single market. If that comes at the price of significant friction to cross-Border trade, so be it. Attempts will be made to mitigate that friction, and help will be provided to businesses and communities affected. But the single market is paramount. This is not a choice the Government relishes – indeed, it has been the great fear since day one. But Ministers are clear which choice they will make if it comes to it.

Discussions between the European Commission and the Government have been ongoing on the nature of Border checks for some time, but both sides have been tight-lipped about their content and progress. Even Ministers who have asked for more detail have been rebuffed, as have Opposition deputies who have been calling for the Government to release details of the planning for the Border for months. The truth is that those arrangements are only being finalised now. When they are finally announced in the coming weeks, it will reveal the true nature of a no-deal Brexit, and the choices it will force on Ireland.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times