EU’s Brexit proposals show importance of border guarantees, says Dublin

Government will trigger ‘backstop’ in event of hardening of existing border

“I am also very conscious that there are so many people who live north of the Border who are Irish citizens and believe themselves to be Irish. That is why they cannot be left behind ever again,” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

“I am also very conscious that there are so many people who live north of the Border who are Irish citizens and believe themselves to be Irish. That is why they cannot be left behind ever again,” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

The free trade agreement that the European Commission envisages underlines the importance of the “backstop” guarantees given by the British government in December, according to senior Irish Government sources.

Dublin was satisfied with the draft guidelines issued by the commission on Wednesday, which sketch out the likely course of negotiations on the future relationship between the EU and the UK.

However, the document envisages a free trade agreement with zero tariffs between the EU and the UK, which would entail a hardening of the existing border.

In the absence of acceptable proposals from the British government, the Irish Government will seek to trigger the “backstop” in the UK-EU declaration from December, which guarantees an open border between North and South.

Last week, the EU said that this would require the North to stay within the rules of the customs union and single market, an outcome the British government said it could not accept, despite the agreement made in December,

The Irish Government, however, is adamant that it will trigger the backstop agreement if there is a potential hardening of the border when Britain leaves the EU.

“If there is a better solution than the backstop agreement, then we say show it to us,” one Irish source said. “Then the backstop becomes redundant.”

British commitment

While there is no specific mention of Ireland in the text published yesterday, it says that progress in the negotiations is only possible if “all commitments undertaken are respected in full” – taken by Irish officials and Ministers as a clear reference to the British commitments on the backstop.

Contacts between the administrations in Dublin and London are likely to focus on the possible border arrangements if a free trade agreement is agreed between the UK and the EU. However, the yesterday in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar said that while there could be discussions with Britain, any negotiations on a deal would be conducted by the commission.

“It makes sense that the Irish Government should talk to the government of the United Kingdom which, after all, is the government next door, “Mr Varadkar said.

“We can discuss with the UK government options and solutions for avoiding a hard border on the island and any physical infrastructure or any associated customs and checks . . . But talking about solutions and looking at options are not negotiations. “The only negotiations can occur bilaterally between the EU and the UK,” he said.

“I am also very conscious that there are so many people who live north of the Border who are Irish citizens and believe themselves to be Irish. That is why they cannot be left behind ever again and why we will move might and main and do all we can do as a Government to ensure it does not happen,” Mr Varadkar added.