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'Volatile and dynamic': Varadkar says Ireland will be keeping a close eye on the House of Commons this week

Two dates for a potential meeting with Boris Johnson next week are being considered.

Image: Daragh Brophy

Updated Sep 2nd 2019, 12:34 PM

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR hopes to meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson next week to discuss the ongoing deadlock over Brexit. 

“We’re working on two possible dates and we’ll confirm them as soon as they are confirmed,” he said today.

Speaking to reporters in Dun Laoghaire this morning, Varadkar said he was open to listening to any proposals from Johnson that would remove the need for a backstop, as long as it did not return a hard border to the island of Ireland.

“As I’ve always said, I’m always willing to listen to any proposals that a British Prime Minister has.

The backstop is a means to an end. It’s there to ensure that we continue to have frictionless trade north and south, that there’s no physical infrastructure, that there’s no checks, no controls, no tariffs. We want that to continue to be the case.

His comments follow a report in The Guardian which claimed that leaked British government documents found all alternatives to the backstop to be “fraught with difficulties”.

The documents summarised the findings of the British government’s official “alternative arrangements” working groups, and concluded that smaller businesses in Northern Ireland will struggle to cope post-Brexit under the proposed alternative solutions.

Varadkar also said that any proposals he had seen for alternative arrangements so far “just manage the border”.

“They facilitate tariffs, they facilitate checks, they facilitate controls, but try to do it in a way that’s invisible and unobtrusive and that’s better than nothing – but it’s not the outcome that we want to achieve,” he said.

The Taoiseach described the current situation, as MPs prepare to return to parliament in Westminster tomorrow, as “very volatile and dynamic”.

Events are happening in the House of Commons this week, we’re going to have to see how they pan out.

“I could very easily say something today or make an initiative today and find out in 48 hours that it’s totally out of date, so I think we have to allow things to develop in Westminster in particular in the next week and review the situation again next week.”

The Irish Cabinet would hold its first post-summer meeting tomorrow, he said, and ministers would be discussing “a new memo on no-deal planning, because we have to be prepared for no-deal on the 31 October”.

The British Cabinet will meet later this afternoon, Johnson confirmed.

A no-deal exit, Varadkar said today, “is increasingly likely, we need to be prepared for that”.

Asked when businesses would be told of contingency plans for no-deal, he said announcements would be made well in advance of 31 October. 

He said the government would not be making last-minute announcements about animal or food checks that would require businesses to respond “the next day or three days later, so anything that’s done will have a lead-in time”.

Answering a question about US Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Dublin tomorrow, the Taoiseach said he would use the opportunity to further outline Ireland’s position on Brexit to the Trump administration. 

Official government report

Britain is due to leave the European Union on 31 October. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will not accept the backstop arrangement but has maintained that “abundant solutions” are available. 

A newly leaked report, however, shows there is no single, deliverable alternative.

The report, according to the Guardian, said: “It is evident that every facilitation has concerns and issues related to them. The complexity of combining them into something more systemic and as part of one package is a key missing factor at present.”

The backstop ensures that Northern Ireland would stay “aligned” to the regulations of the single market and the customs union if there is still no other solution that would avoid infrastructure along the Irish border.

To avoid a border, it means there would have to be the same or similar custom rules and regulations for products, food, animals and vehicles between the UK and the EU – or Northern Ireland and the EU.

The official report summarises the work of two groups tasked with coming up with border ideas.

Border solutions with the most potential listed in the report include:

  • Regulatory and industry assurance schemes.
  • Trusted trader schemes.
  • Smarter risking – a technological solution that involves data sharing.
  • A Northern Ireland sanitary and phytosanitary zone to track contamination and disease.

Significant concerns are raised in the report about an artificial intelligence option, which experts felt might not detect disease and chemical contamination of food.

On-board vehicle technology which could track the location, weight and temperature of goods was also considered risky if a lorry is suddenly taken out of service and goods offloaded into a non-registered vehicle.

Physical goods checks through mobile units could also take weeks and involve lengthy periods of quarantine, the report found. The units could also be vulnerable to “targeting” and staff could be at risk, it said.

The report also found that additional administration could hit small businesses in Northern Ireland, according to the Guardian. 

No comment

The UK’s Department for Exiting the European Union declined to comment on the leaked report.

Meanwhile, UK cabinet minister Michael Gove has refused to guarantee his government would abide by legislation to stop a no-deal Brexit if it passes after being proposed by MPs this week.

With reporting from Daragh Brophy.

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