The small print of the UK document is clear – some checks will be required

Why would the Irish Government sign up for checks as part of a deal when it thinks checks are the worst thing about no deal?

There are hundreds of downsides to a crash-out Brexit. But Dublin has long been fixated on one in particular – Border checks. Photograph: Getty Images

There are hundreds of downsides to a crash-out Brexit. But Dublin has long been fixated on one in particular – Border checks. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Leo Varadkar was careful not to be too peremptory in dismissing Boris Johnson’s proposals when he faced journalists at the announcement of EU funding for an electricity interconnector between Ireland and France on Wednesday afternoon.

But the symbolism of the occasion was apt – Ireland and France co-operating to bypass the UK with the assistance of European Commission funding – and the message was clear: the British government’s proposals to replace the backstop are not going to fly.

Varadkar stressed that he would always be open to continuing discussions with the British, and later the European Commission said it would engage over the coming days. Would these be negotiations?

“We will ask them questions about it, yes,” said one commission official.

Everyone is conscious of a potential blame-game. Yet the Taoiseach was also clear – as he was in the Dáil earlier on Wednesday and on Tuesday – Dublin won’t agree to any deal that includes checks on goods moving between North and South.

As Government no-deal planning makes clear, there are hundreds of downsides to a crash-out Brexit. But Dublin has long been fixated on one in particular – Border checks.

Conscious of the disruption the checks would cause to business and society as a whole, to cross-Border relations and also of the obvious security implications the mechanics of such checks require, the need to avoid them has been at the centre of Dublin’s priorities since the early days of the Brexit negotiations.

Boris Johnson's letter to Jean-Claude Juncker

Borderlands

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Regulatory border

The May government agreed that checks could not currently be avoided if there was a customs and regulatory border, and so the basis of the backstop was the removal of the need for such a border.

Johnson’s administration quickly retreated from that position, claiming that the issue of checks was one which could be managed technically, perhaps to irrelevancy.

Yet the small print of the British document is clear that some checks, and some infrastructure, will be required.

In recent weeks the Irish Government has been grappling with the fact that checks may after all be required as the Brexit process careers towards a no deal. In private many people in Government are deeply uneasy about that, and some of them are not far short of terrified about the political consequences.

As reality intrudes they know they may have to face up to checks in a no-deal but they are not going to wilfully accept them as part of a deal. Not now, anyway.

Why would the Irish Government sign up for checks as part of a deal when it thinks checks are the worst thing about no deal?

Johnson says checks are just the reality of Brexit, and the UK wonders why the Government can’t accept it is leaving the single market and the customs union, and work with it to minimise the intrusiveness of checks.

Two bad options

And there may come a time when the Government has to choose between two bad options, and figure out which is the least bad. But Dublin doesn’t believe that time is here yet.

For now Ministers and officials in Dublin believe there may be a third option. Ireland and the EU believe that Johnson and his government will not be able to avoid obeying the Benn Act – an act of parliament which requires an extension to avoid no deal. That means that very few expect a no-deal exit on October 31st.

An extension, and the domestic political fallout in the UK up to and likely including a general election, is the next step they see. That may end with an empowered Johnson, capable of negotiating and ratifying a new deal.

If that happens the EU may have to engage seriously with the sort of proposal that Johnson has made. But that point has not been reached yet.

BREXIT: The Facts

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