Taoiseach’s confidence of no Border controls not shared in Brussels

Diplomatic source warns that EU would not allow a potential loophole in single market

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. Photograph: François Lenoir/Reuters

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. Photograph: François Lenoir/Reuters

 

The Taoiseach’s confidence that preparations for Border controls in Ireland are unnecessary, regardless of whether the UK secures a Brexit deal or not, is not shared in Brussels, diplomats have indicated.

Leo Varadkar on Wednesday said the European Union, specifically commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, had reassured the Government that no physical checks would be needed on the Border even if the UK crashed out of the bloc without a deal.

However, an EU diplomatic source in Brussels said they were yet “to discuss with Ireland how it would secure the internal market in the context of a no-deal”. He warned that Brussels would not allow there to be a loophole in the single market.

Although Mr Varadkar said there was strong support for maintaining a frictionless border in Ireland among member states, and for the backstop, there are doubts that such solidarity would extend to allowing an open border in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The commission refused to be drawn on whether any such discussions had taken place, and one source suggested it was “most unlikely” Mr Juncker had made such no-deal commitments.

EU diplomats view the discussion of no-deal scenarios as a necessary preparation for what they see still as the unlikely possibility of the UK departing without a deal. That possibility has increased in recent weeks amid turmoil in the British cabinet, however.

Mr Varadkar is insisting the commitment is unconditional and implying that there is an implicit understanding with the UK, of which there is no evidence yet.

Belfast Agreement

British diplomatic sources privately admit that they do see the Border issue as part of their “unwavering” commitment to the Belfast Agreement. But they will not speculate on what sort of goods and veterinary regulatory regime they would have to maintain, even in a no-deal scenario, to ensure a frictionless Border.

Mr Varadkar also said this week that such a “doomsday scenario” would mean that the “commitments of others” would have to be relied upon to prevent a hard border. Commitments of fellow member states and the UK have yet to be clearly expressed – perhaps a suggestion by the Taoiseach that his certainty about a no-deal frictionless border may be qualified.

The commission yesterday published a 16-page “preparedness” paper urging members to accelerate their planning for a no-deal scenario. The paper reflects nine months of work in the commission and member states in planning for all Brexit eventualities.

The repercussions, the paper points out, range widely from new controls at the EU’s (new) outer border, to the validity of UK-issued licences, certificates and authorisations all the way to new conditions for data transfers. Some member states, the report says, are more advanced in their work, citing Ireland, the Netherlands and Belgium.

The report praises the Irish website preparefrobrexit.com, which it says is a useful tool for business. Legislative changes will be required in member states and at regional level, and a major scoping exercise on legislation is under way in all member states.

UK removal

The EU and its institutions also need to remove or adjust references to the UK throughout the acquis communautaire, the vast body of EU law and administrative procedures that have built up over the years and guide everything from poultry regulation to standards for car exhaust.

“Preparation must be stepped up immediately at all levels and taking into account all possible outcomes,” the report urges. “Private actors, business operators and professionals need to take responsibility for their individual situation, assess the potential impacts of a cliff-edge scenario on their business model, make the necessary economic decisions and take and conclude all required administrative steps before March 30th, 2019.”

The commission report will be discussed today by European Affairs ministers at a meeting where they will get a first assessment by chief negotiator Michel Barnier of the UK’s new White Paper.