Varadkar confirms plans for hard Brexit now being implemented

Taoiseach rejects claims that Government trying to avoid speaking about Border checks

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “We’re not planning for checks along the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Nor are we planning for checks in the sea.” Photograph: PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “We’re not planning for checks along the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Nor are we planning for checks in the sea.” Photograph: PA Wire

 

The Government is now implementing plans for a no-deal Brexit and they are no longer contingency plans, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has confirmed.

In the wake of Westminster’s comprehensive reject of the withdrawal agreement, the Taoiseach said these plans provide for checks at airports and ports in Dublin and Rosslare.

But he rejected claims by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin that there was a “private understanding” within Government that there would be a hard border and that they were refusing to tell the public.

Mr Varadkar said the Government is “now implementing plans” for a hard Brexit*, and they are “no longer contingency plans”.

“We’re not planning for checks along the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Nor are we planning for checks in the sea,” he added.

Mr Varadkar rejected claims that Government representatives had avoided mentions of border checks because they did not want to be the Government that re-introduced a border on the island of Ireland. This followed a recorded conversation between the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and the Minister for Transport Shane Ross on border checks emerging.

The Taoiseach said the only genuine concern is that “if you use the wrong words, or say things in the wrong way people will misinterpret that as if you have some sort of secret plan to impose a hard border”.

There was no such secret plan, he said.

‘Be honest’

Mr Martin said the Government “must be honest with the Oireachtas and the people” on the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit on Ireland’s politics, economic potential and social well being. The Government “should share all of its analysis” and all of its preparations for a no-deal scenario.

He highlighted what he described as a “deeply worrying” private conversation between Mr Coveney and Mr Ross, caught on tape on Tuesday, because it suggested that “the public are not being told the full truth for party political reasons”.

At a press briefing, Mr Ross, answering a question from a reporter about checks on a truck from Scotland to Larne and then to the republic, said: “I would anticipate there would be checks”. Mr Coveney contradicted him.

Mr Martin said when the press conference ended, Mr Coveney said to Mr Ross: “We can’t get into where they’ll be at this stage. They could be in the sea. They could be...but once you start talking about checks anywhere near the border people will start delving into that and all of a sudden we’ll be the Government that re-introduced a fiscal border on the island of Ireland”.

Mr Martin said there seemed to be a private understanding and knowledge within Government of a border but “at all costs that private understanding must not be shared with the public”.

He compared it to a scene in comedy television series, Fawlty Towers. “Whatever you do don’t mention the war, but somebody forgot to tell Mr Ross.”

He asked if Ministers were told not to mention the possibility of checks in the event of a no deal Brexit.

‘No guarantee’

Mr Varadkar said he did not know what Mr Martin was trying to imply, but he said a no-deal Brexit would “leave us with no guarantee in relation to there not being a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. It would leave us with no protections around citizens’ rights and freedoms and it would have a major impact on jobs and the economy.”

He said they had found a solution a withdrawal agreement agreed over months and months but Westminster had rejected it.

Whatever Westminster came up with must be acceptable to the EU and to Ireland.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said comments by DUP leader Arlene Foster on Tuesday that there had never been a hard border were “manifestly not true”.

Legislation to deal with Brexit will not be published until February 22nd and Sinn Féin would facilitate this legislation but “you’re coming to all of this very late in the day”, she told Mr Varadkar. She called for him to defend the backstop.

The Taoiseach said “The only way we can avoid a hard border in the long-term is having a customs agreement and regulatory alignment”.

It was not good enough for those who rejected the agreement to say there would not be a hard border just because people said there would not be.

“I’ll defend the backstop but it’s there as a means to an end,” the Taoiseach said, describing it as a legal guarantee that mechanisms will be put in place to ensure no hardening of border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

*This article was amended on January 16th, 2019 as it stated hard border rather than hard Brexit