In a stark warning, the most senior official in the Department of Foreign Affairs has said the avoidance of a hard border after Brexit is not now guaranteed.
Niall Burgess, secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs, has said the only way to ensure we do not go back to a border on the island of Ireland is through the agreed protocol, which is now "not guaranteed".
In an interview with the, Mr Burgess said the Government has been working to secure alternative transport routes to Europe but there is no way to fully replace the land-bridge.
Around 150,000 Irish trucks use the UK land-bridge to export 3m tonnes of goods to the EU every year and there are mounting fears that this will be severely disrupted post-Brexit.
"We've now stepped up, very very rapidly, our preparations for a no-deal Brexit, and a lot of work has been done in terms of the development of ports and direct connections to the EU. You can't replace the land-bridge," Mr Burgess said, but he added that officials are working to make sure it is still viable for Irish exporters after Brexit, "no matter how hard the Brexit is".
Asked about the potential threat of a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and the North if Britain crashes out, Mr Burgess said: "The implementation of the protocol is the alternative to a hard border — that's why the protocol is there. And that's why maintaining the protocol is so profoundly important for us."
When it was suggested that the protocol is now not guaranteed after Boris Johnson's government published the controversial Internal Market Bill, which would break international law and renege on parts of the Withdrawal Agreement, Mr Burgess said: "No, it's not guaranteed.
"But it is going to be, first and foremost, priority number one, until we can get the assurances we need around it."