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'Treating us as if we're stupid?': Minister pressured to answer direct question on border in Morning Ireland interview

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed was involved in a tense interview on Morning Ireland today.

MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE Michael Creed repeatedly refused to directly answer the question over whether there would be a return to border checks on the island of Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

In a tense interview with Audrey Carville on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, the minister was told that “many people listening this morning might think you’re treating us as if we are stupid”, over his and the government’s insistence that there would be no border.

For the first time yesterday, the EU indicated that it was “pretty obvious” there would be some kind of border and checks if the UK crashes out of Europe without a deal.

However, the government has repeatedly said that it has an agreement that will avoid a hard border – but that deal put forward by Theresa May was roundly rejected by MPs in the House of Commons last week, leaving it uncertain how Britain will proceed from here.

The deal that the Irish government says exists to avoid a hard border is a deal that the British parliament has roundly rejected.

Question and answer

Brexit Source: Niall Carson/PA Images

“The first thing which I want to say is we’re in a period of heightened political anxiety over Brexit,” Creed said this morning. 

Carville then asked: “Could you explain how a hard border could be avoided in the event of a no deal?”

Creed answered: “What is abundantly clear even from as late as on Monday when Tánaiste Simon Coveney was in Brussels with Michel Barnier is that there is no diminution  – not a single iota – of the commitment from Brussels to the withdrawal agreement in its full content presently.

Creed: We have a solution in the context of that withdrawal - 

Carville: “But we’re talking about a no deal, minister, with respect if you could answer the question of how would we avoid a hard border?”

Creed: We are… It is imperative now the focus remains on Westminster and London. We have negotiated an agreement that deals with the border issue with the UK government. 

Later on in the interview, Carville pressed Creed again on the question of a hard border in the event of a no deal. 

Carville: “I must repeat, minister, we are talking this morning about a no deal Brexit and what will happen on this island on 30 March or 1 April, when a tanker load of milk leaves LacPatrick dairies in Tyrone bound for Donegal, who will check that milk?

Creed: What we are talking about is competing imperatives. There is an issue around the integrity of the single market and I understand the EU’s principled commitment to that, and that’s an issue we clearly understand - 

Carville: “But who will check the milk? This is the practicalities of a no deal Brexit…”

Creed: The practicalities of the border issue is dealt with very clearly in the withdrawal agreement, and we need to find the solution to that. If there were easy answers, they would have been found a long time ago. 

Carville: “Are you going to tell us who and where that tanker load of milk and countless other food products be checked?”

Creed: What I want to reassure the listeners who are operating business on the border communities, we do not envisage under any circumstances border infrastructure - 

Carville: “But where will the border be? Where will the products be checked in the event of a no deal?”

Creed: That is an issue that is dealt with now in the withdrawal agreement - 

Carville: “No it isn’t… it doesn’t deal with a no deal Brexit.”

Creed: I’m sorry but it is… we need to have a concluded, definitive response from the UK parliament to the proposals to deal with their exit from the EU.

Carville: “In the event of a no deal, who will check the tanker load of that milk as it prepares to cross the border on a daily basis?”

Creed: What is abundantly clear is that this government is not countenancing in any circumstances a return to  a situation where we have hard border infrastructure… it will not happen. We have a solution within the withdrawal agreement. The UK government must be the focus now.

Carville: “Many people listening this morning might think you are treating us all as if we’re stupid.”

Creed: No, what I’m clearly stating is this is a moment of high political drama. It is imperative that the Irish government’s position is understood in the context of a debate that is current and fluid in the UK parliament. 

Minister Creed was asked again during the interview about a hard border in a no deal, but he repeated again and again there would be no hard border or checks because a withdrawal agreement was in place. 

He concluded that the next move must come from Westminster.

Border solution

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald also spoke to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

She told the programme: “The backstop mitigates the effect of Brexit in the event of a crash and no agreement, we are faced with the prospect of a hard border. It is the truth.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met with party leaders last night, and it was suggested he said that the single market border could be in France or the Netherlands, rather than Ireland.

McDonald said it wasn’t a runner, and she said it wasn’t forwarded as a proposition by Varadkar.

“I said the task for him and his government is to hold their nerve,” she said, suggesting that the Irish government should “play for time” if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal. 

If we can’t mitigate any hardening of the border, then the next logical step is … to ask the people on the basis of the principle of consent if they are satisfied and happy to go along with all the disruption that a hardening of the border would represent.

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Sean Murray

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