Government in talks with commission to avoid no-deal hard border
Contingency planning taking place behind closed doors in event of no-deal Brexit
As the European Commission acknowledged that a no-deal outcome was growing more likely, it said it would immediately apply its rules and tariffs at the border with the UK. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
However, the officials remain tight-lipped about how this can be achieved.
Previously, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his Ministers have said that contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit did not involve the Border as the UK had pledged there would be no return to a hard border.
However, sources now say that these discussions are taking place with the commission behind closed doors.
The Government has insisted that it is “at one” with the EU on the need to avoid a hard border in the event the UK crashes out with no deal, but says it must also protect the integrity of the single market and customs union.
As the commission acknowledged that a no-deal outcome was growing more likely and said it would immediately apply its rules and tariffs at the border with the UK, the Government continued to say it was not preparing for a hard border.
“The Government is not preparing for a hard border. Ireland and the EU are at one on this. The EU has been clear that it is determined to do all it can, deal or no deal, to avoid the need for a border and to protect the peace process,” a spokesman for Mr Varadkar said in a statement last night.
“The Government, with the EU, remains committed to avoiding a hard border on island of Ireland. We must also protect the integrity of the EU’s single market and customs union and Ireland’s place in them.”
Senior officials said contacts with the commission were continuous, but acknowledged that impatience was growing in Brussels.
Earlier, the commission released a statement warning of significant disruption in the event of a no-deal exit, but it would be required “to immediately apply its rules and tariffs at its borders with the UK”.
Speaking in Dublin, the Taoiseach said that he was “still confident we will have a deal”. But he acknowledged: “As every day passes no deal becomes more likely and that is just a statement of the fact”.
No-deal preparations, he said, were being “intensified at the moment”.
In response to questions, his spokesman later said there was “ongoing contact between Ireland and the European Commission on a range of issues related to a no-deal scenario”.
The UK government has indicated that in the event of a no-deal it will operate special arrangements for Northern Ireland for a temporary period.
One senior Irish source suggested the commission would want new arrangements for the border – in whatever form – to be in place within a short period of time after a no-deal Brexit.
The Cabinet is likely to discuss Brexit preparations at its meeting on Tuesday morning, while Mr Varadkar is expected to face questions on the subject when the Dáil meets for the first time after the St Patrick’s Day recess.