Back-up plans for hard Brexit under way

Ireland has been making contingency arrangements for a hard Brexit for “some time” but will never tolerate a border with the North, the Taoiseach has said.

Leo Varadkar has said that more movement is needed from the British government on the Irish border ahead of an EU summit later this month as a paper put forward by British prime minister Theresa May last week is not satisfactory.

Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney will today brief Cabinet on Brexit developments, including contingency plans; work on protecting the Common Travel Area; and efforts to maintain co-operation on the likes of health, education, and social services between Ireland and Britain.

As talks enter a critical period ahead of the Brussels meeting, Mr Varadkar said that even if a deal cannot be reached and Britain leaves the EU in the worst possible manner, no provision will be made for a hard border between Ireland and the North because that will “never happen, ever”.

We have been making contingency arrangements for some time for a no deal or a hard Brexit,” said Mr Varadkar.

“But what we are not going to prepare for is a hard border on the island of Ireland because that will not happen under any circumstances and I have made that clear to the prime minister, who shares that commitment and I have also made it very clear on a number of occasions to all of the other EU prime ministers and presidents who understand the position on it.”

However, Mr Varadkar did concede that there may be restrictions on trade and customs between Ireland and Britain if a Brexit deal cannot be signed off on and tariffs are introduced.

Mr Varadkar’s predecessor, Enda Kenny, took a stronger stance when he described the lack of clarity and progress coming from the British government as “appalling”. He suggested that an extra EU Council should be called ahead of the critical October meeting to ensure a deal can be signed off on.

Speaking as he received the European Movement Ireland’s European of the Year award in Dublin, Mr Kenny said: “I am appalled by what is happening in politics in Britain. The government is driven by internal dissent, lacks credibility and clarity on the most serious issue in decades...

This is so serious I believe that the president of the council should consider either having a meeting before that meeting in October or afterwards, specifically and solely to deal with signing off on what hopefully can be concluded negotiations.

The paper put forward by Mrs May’s government last week was yesterday dismissed by the European Commission’s Brexit task force, which said it left key questions unanswered.

Mr Coveney said it was never expected that everything would be resolved ahead of this month’s meeting of leaders.

“Last week was a step in the right direction,” he said. “We had asked for a paper and proposals in writing to the taskforce coming from the British government. That’s what we got last week. There are elements of that that the taskforce has issues with, and certainly we do too, but it’s the basis of negotiation.”

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