Many Border checks could be done remotely if needed, says Varadkar

Discussion of frontier will be on agenda when Angela Merkel visits Dublin

Preparations for dealing with the EU frontier on the island of Ireland will be one of the main items on the agenda when the German chancellor Angela Merkel visits Dublin today for talks with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

Many Border checks and procedures after a no-deal Brexit could be done remotely, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said, but animal checks can only be done physically by vets.

Mr Varadkar said the Government will propose that these checks take place at Northern ports on animals arriving from the UK but that would require the British government to co-operate. He said the collection of tariffs and customs duties could be administered either online or through tax offices.

“Animal checks are much more difficult,” Mr Varadkar told the Dáil. “They can only possibly be done physically by vets. It is our view that those checks should take place at ports and that the island of Ireland should be treated as a whole when it comes to sanitary and phytosanitary standards, SPS. That would, however, require the co-operation of the UK.

“All we can do at this stage, without knowing what is going to happen, is explore options. We are doing that and it is happening at official rather than Government level.”


Remaining evasive

Senior sources hinted that discussions with the European Commission on no-deal preparations were more advanced than the Government has indicated, though the Government is remaining evasive in public.

Two sources stressed the need to keep the Border discussions behind closed doors as any suggestion that checks could be avoided entirely would allow Brexiteers to claim that there was no need for the backstop, even though the EU remains completely committed to its retention.

However, Mr Varadkar said there were “reasonable questions” about how Ireland would protect the single market.

A senior Government source said that if there is a no-deal Brexit there will be “factory checks, port checks, checks as far away from border as possible”. The source also said the European Commission is likely to want to know “within a week” of no-deal what the Irish plan is.

Preparations for dealing with the EU frontier on the island of Ireland will be one of the main items on the agenda when German chancellor Angela Merkel visits Dublin today for talks with the Taoiseach.

Farmleigh House

The meeting will take place at Farmleigh House in the Phoenix Park this afternoon and will be dominated by talks on Brexit.

Amid the continuing uncertainty in London, EU leaders must decide whether to grant the UK a second extension to the article 50 process, and if so, on what terms.

Mr Varadkar said yesterday that his “general sense across the European Council” is that it is open to granting an extension . “However, we do not want that further extension to be merely a licence for further indecision . . . We need a clear plan.”

Dr Merkel is thought to favour granting the British another extension, though EU leaders made clear at the last summit that an extension beyond May 22nd would require the UK to hold elections to the European parliament, something Mrs May is opposed to.

Government Buildings stressed that the meeting with Dr Merkel would see other issues discussed apart from the Border. However, she will hear from a panel of people from Border areas who will take part in a round table with the German leader.

Government Buildings said the panel would include about 15 people from diverse backgrounds, including unionists living in the Republic, business people from both sides of the Border, victims of the Troubles and others.

Dublin also expects to brief Dr Merkel on its contacts with the UK government, with which it maintains a constant stream of informal contacts, though these tend to be at ministerial level rather than with Number 10.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times