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No contingencies, no plans, no secret plans: Leo says the Irish government has no preparations for a hard border

Questions have been raised about the level at which the Irish government is prepared for a no-deal Brexit.

Image: Tom Honan

THERE ARE NO contingency plans for a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, according to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar today.

Yesterday the Irish government published a 131-page document on its plans for a no-deal Brexit, should it happen. However, one glaring omission from the plans is any reference to what would happen to the border if Britain crashes out of the EU.

As things come down to the wire, with a no-deal Brexit becoming all the more likely, questions have been raised about the level at which the Irish government is prepared for such an eventuality.

Quizzed about the issue today, Varadkar said:

“We are not preparing for a hard border. We have made no preparations whatsoever.”

‘The honest truth’

He later added that no plans have been initiated as he doesn’t want it to “become a self-fulfilling prophecy”, stating: 

The answer I’ve been giving people all along is the honest truth. We’re not making plans for a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Our focus is entirely on getting an agreement that ensures that that doesn’t happen.

However, he was clear there is only one way to avoid a hard border, stating that it “can only really be achieved by a deal”.

“The best way to avoid a hard border is to have a deal, and there is a deal on the table. And I hope Westminster and the European Parliament will be able to ratify it in the new year. And we will continue to work with our European partners and the UK and our European guarantees to give assurances and guarantees on that issue.

“Obviously without reopening the Withdrawal Agreement itself. But we want to work with the UK and our EU partners to secure agreement of the Withdrawal Agreement which of course not only guarantees that there won’t be a hard border. It guarantees there will never be a hard border and that’s why it is such an important treaty,” he said.

‘Loathe to speculate’

On the issue of a no-deal Brexit, the Taoiseach said he always loathes to speculate on it, because “it is speculation and a lot of it raises more questions than I can give answers”.

He said the issue comes down to alignment, stating: 

But what is certain to me is in order to avoid a hard border you must have alignment on customs and regulations. So it’s all very well for people to say that nobody wants a hard border. Nobody wants it in Dublin, nobody wants it in Belfast, nobody wants it in Brussels or London. But if you don’t have alignment on customs and regulations then you get into real difficulties.
If the UK crashed out of the European Union at the end of March they would still be aligned on customs and regulations. So the problem would only arise if they decided in some way to change their customs and regulations. And that’s where it could get difficult. But that is something obviously we are going to have to talk to them about in a no-deal scenario.

He said Ireland’s European partners understand that the border with Northern Ireland  isn’t a typical border, “that this is a border that goes through villages, goes through farms, goes through businesses and of course is a border that people fought and killed other people over as well”. 

Varadkar said work to secure the ratification of the withdrawal agreement will continue, with a hope it can be signed off on in January ideally, but certainly before the UK leaves at the end of March. 

“Obviously it’s a fact that no deal is a possibility. We don’t think it’s a probability, but it’s a possibility,” said the Taoiseach, who added that there will be more contingency information released in the middle of January.

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