UK decision on customs union ‘crucial’ to seamless Border, Kenny says

Britain yet to say what kind of customs union membership it wants, Taoiseach tells Dáil

Enda Kenny and Theresa May in Dublin on Sunday. The Taoiseach said he and the British prime minister discussed the North but admitted he was unsure how  a soft Border can be achieved. Photograph: Reuters/Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography/Pool

Enda Kenny and Theresa May in Dublin on Sunday. The Taoiseach said he and the British prime minister discussed the North but admitted he was unsure how a soft Border can be achieved. Photograph: Reuters/Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography/Pool

 

The British government has not yet defined exactly whether it wants full, associate or nonmembership of the customs union and that will be crucial when Brexit negotiations start, the Taoiseach has said.

Enda Kenny said “if we want a seamless, friction-free, trouble-free Border, that is the crucial area to be negotiated”.

He told the Dáil that during discussions with British prime minister Theresa May during her visit to Ireland on Monday, “we made the point that the UK has not defined exactly what it wants in respect of the customs union, whether it is full membership, associate membership or nonmembership”.

That was an issue the British had to decide. Mr Kenny told Labour leader Brendan Howlin that “it is not for me to pre-empt what it is the British government will decide about that, but that is the area where the negotiations will be critical when the talks start”.

He added: “The prime minister is very much aware of that now.”

Mr Howlin had noted the joint statement from Mr Kenny and Ms May that they wanted a seamless and friction-free Border. The Labour leader said that sounded like a “very good soundbite”.

He asked how they jointly agreed to achieve that because if the UK exited the single market and the customs union unilaterally, the legal definition of the Border between the Republic and Northern Ireland would change.

British decision

Mr Kenny said Britain’s decision about the level of membership of the customs union it wished to retain would be crucial.

He said Ms May had announced in her speech at Lancaster House that Britain was withdrawing from the single market and that brought its own implications.

The Taoiseach said the Government wanted the common travel area retained.

TD Gerry Adams said he saw no mention of the Taoiseach defending the vote of the people in the North to stay in the EU, as Sinn Féin leader renewed his call for specially designated status for the North within the EU.

Mr Kenny said he and Ms May had discussed the North and that it was a “special case” but he said “I am not sure how we are going to achieve” a soft Border with the Republic.

Earlier, he dismissed claims from Independent TD Stephen Donnelly that senior executives working in financial services in London and considering relocation to other EU states, “have had neither sight nor sound of Irish politicians nor officials” while they were being courted by other EU countries.

Mr Kenny insisted Ireland “is very active in this field” and he said Mr Donnelly should give him the names of the business leaders and “I will see that they are called together and given the full regime in terms of what is happening”.