Dublin must consider tech alternatives to Border ‘backstop’ - Donaldson

DUP MP: Brussels and Dublin must do more to ‘explore’ alternatives to avoid hard border

  Jeffrey Donaldson  rejected any suggestion that technological solutions might not work and said they should be explored and tested to dispense with the “backstop” that his party strongly opposes. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Jeffrey Donaldson rejected any suggestion that technological solutions might not work and said they should be explored and tested to dispense with the “backstop” that his party strongly opposes. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

 

The Irish Government should consider examining whether technological solutions could work to avoid the contentious “backstop” solution to prevent a hard border, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has said.

Speaking after a speech at his party’s conference, Mr Donaldson noted that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said this week that he would not contemplate a hard border even if the draft Brexit deal was voted down.

“The EU have talked about their willingness to have technological solutions in the Irish Sea, so if it can work in the Irish Sea, it can work on the Irish Border,” the Lagan Valley MP told The Irish Times.

The UK government said this week that it would seek the cooperation of the Irish authorities in exploring technological solutions to keeping the Irish Border open after Brexit if the draft deal is approved.

The Irish Government has in the past rejected such solutions to avoid a hard border as they have been judged “inadequate or unworkable” but it said this week it would be willing to consider “sensible and realistic solutions that will avoid a hard border, so long as their effectiveness can be proved.”

Mr Donaldson rejected any suggestion that technological solutions might not work and said they should be explored and tested to dispense with the “backstop” that his party strongly opposes.

“I don’t accept that it has been proved unworkable. How can you prove something unworkable when you haven’t tried it?” said the DUP chief whip.

This week’s 26-page political declaration, outlining a plan for the post-Brexit EU-UK relationship, said that “facilitative arrangements and technologies” would be considered in developing “any alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.”

The inclusion of possible technological solutions is as a concession to British prime minister Theresa May as she tries to win over Eurosceptics and Unionists opposed to the “backstop” that would keep Northern Ireland and the UK under EU economic rules post-Brexit should a trade deal not solve the Border issue.

Mr Donaldson said the draft deal was “a legally binding agreement” in contrast to the political declaration which “holds out the hope of alternative arrangements on the Irish Border to prevent a hard border.”

“We feel that more needs to be done to explore the alternatives,” he said.

The DUP MP said that if the House of Commons votes down the draft withdrawal agreement in the meaningful vote because of the opposition to the backstop, then the EU must change the agreement.

He pointed out that even the UK Chancellor Philip Hammond told the DUP conference in Belfast at a private dinner on Friday night that he “doesn’t like the backstop.”

“I think we need to see the change if this deal is going to get over the line,” he said.