Government says no plans in case of post-Brexit hard border

The Government has refused to reveal if it has any plans for a hard border amid growing fears that the country is sleepwalking into a no-deal Brexit crisis.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney denied the existence of any hard-border plan, despite announcing “accelerated” no-deal contingency measures to protect Ireland.

In a memo outlined at Cabinet yesterday, Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney said due to the increasing problems in Britain, Ireland must “ramp up” its worst-case Brexit plans.

    Under the increased protections, the Government has:

  • Given all department secretaries generals amended draft laws to cope with a no-deal Brexit;
  • Set aside Dáil and Seanad time in January to make emergency legal changes before the March 29 Brexit date;
  • Announced an “acceleration” of recruitment of customs officials, with hundreds more people expected to join the already 200 new recruits in the sector;
  • Confirmed the existence of unpublished emergency plans to ensure Irish and European planes will still be able to fly over Britain once the UK is removed from the open skies EU policy;
  • Put in place greater protections for businesses and farmers at most risk from a no-deal Brexit.

A hard border is the worst case scenario — meaning it is the key reason for any contingency planning.

However, both Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney denied they have any plans in place for the return of a hard border.

“No, the Taoiseach and I have said repeatedly we are not planning, even in contingency plans now, we’re not planning for a hard border infrastructure on the island of Ireland,” Mr Coveney told RTÉ’s Six One News programme, without explaining how it can be avoided in a no-deal situation.

Asked the same question in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar said the Government has decided to “ramp up” no-deal plans, but refused to publish the details or confirm the existence of any hard-border plans.

In a separate post-Cabinet media briefing yesterday evening, a senior Government spokesperson repeated the hard-border preparations denial, citing the need to prevent any speculation at a deeply sensitive point in the Brexit process.

Asked repeatedly to explain the Government’s hard-border plans and, if there are no plans, how a hard border can be avoided if there is a no-deal Brexit, the spokesperson said that officials are preparing “for all eventualities” except a hard border.

In the Dáil, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin lashed out at the lack of transparency, telling Mr Varadkar there is a need to reveal the full extent of Irish planning for a hard Brexit.

Warning that there is a growing fear the country is failing to properly prepare for the worst case scenario, Mr Martin said: “The public need to be engaged by this plan. There is a view that people should be told the terrible implications of Brexit that might cause undue alarm and panic. But people are sensible. If we want them to buy in and engage they should know what the implications are.

“I ask the Taoiseach to commit to publishing the central case scenario and contingency plans. Politics should no longer get in the way of genuine national engagement in preparing for Brexit.”

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