‘We must not be pushed into EU-UK relationship without border deal’

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern

By Juno McEnroe and Elaine Loughlin

Ireland must not be pushed or shoved into agreeing a future EU-UK relationship without securing a Brexit deal for a frictionless border, former taoiseach Bertie Ahern has warned.

With just weeks to go before a deadline for agreement on a withdrawal deal for Britain, Mr Ahern insisted it would be a disaster to move to the next stage without a deal for Ireland.

His caution comes as the Government tries to get Britain to sign up to a legal text giving effect to the so-called backstop. This, as a last remedy, plans for a border across the Irish Sea, between east and west, as opposed to on the island of Ireland. However, the Tory-led British government looks increasingly unlikely to agree to this.

Speaking to RTÉ yesterday, Mr Ahern said that not securing a deal on the border would be a “disaster”.

Mr Ahern said British prime minister Theresa May was unlikely to make any concessions ahead of her forthcoming Tory conference. Nonetheless, there would also be pressure on Ireland.

We might have to make some concessions. Every week that goes by weakens our position. The British have successfully dragged it out.

Mr Ahern warned in April about the timeline of Brexit negotiations, saying talks should not be left until the “evil hour” or late-night deadlines where there could be pressure.

Running talks down to Halloween in October would be “dangerous”, he then cautioned.

That deadline itself now looks increasingly likely to pass without a deal.

“If this issue is allowed to be pushed into the future relations discussion it will be a disaster,” added Mr Ahern.

Meanwhile, a suggestion by Britain’s trade secretary Liam Fox to scrap EU food standards in order to secure a post-Brexit deal with the US has been criticised.

While the British government has insisted it will not water down EU-wide regulations to prohibit the sale of products such as chlorinated chicken or hormone injected beef, it was reported that Mr Fox is considering using special “Henry VIII” powers to overhaul standards.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin criticised the suggestion. “First of all I think it’s an extraordinary statement by Liam Fox and he will not be thanked by British consumers, because the issue around food standards, it’s the consumer who calls that one.

Anyone in food production knows that when something goes wrong on the shelf in terms of contamination or poor standards it is devastating for that particular product, it’s devastating for that particular company and industry.

“I think the British public would revolt against any idea that leaving Europe means a reduction in food quality and food standards,” he said.

Mr Martin said he believes there will be a deal as there are “39bn reasons there has to be a deal” adding that it would be “calamitous for Ireland” if an agreement is not reached.

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