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Tick tock

Brexit 66 days out, but Irish government says there are 'absolutely no preparations for a hard border'

An Irish government spokesperson said that it serves no purpose to speculate about the border in the event of a no-deal Brexit

IN WHAT HAS been described as ‘stating the obvious’, a European Commission spokesperson said today a no-deal Brexit will bring about a return of a hard border. 

It’s understood the Cabinet “noted the remarks” this afternoon, but the Irish government continues to maintain that there are no plans for the scenario of a hard border.

No plans, no secret plans, nothing.

That has been the consistent message for the last number of months, and they are sticking to it. 

However, it is now 66 days out, and contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit are being implemented in every other area – other than along the border.

Speculation not helpful

This afternoon, following Tánaiste Simon Coveney stating that it would be “difficult” to avoid a hard border in a no-deal scenario, an Irish government spokesperson said that it serves no purpose to speculate about the border in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

This comes just one week after Transport Minister Shane Ross stated that in a crash out Brexit, there would need to be some sort of customs checks. 

Speaking in the Dáil after Ross’s slip of the tongue, Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin said the message appears to be not to even mention the possibility of a hard border, but as the clock ticks down and Britain’s exit date gets closer, answers are being demanded. 

A government spokesperson acknowledged today that a no-deal would be an “extremely difficult” challenge for Ireland, however he ruled out the Irish government putting up customs posts along the border.

When asked if Ireland could ignore an instruction from the EU to put up a hard border with Northern Ireland if we end up in a no-deal Brexit scenario, he stated: 

That may involve difficult conversations at the time.

“We’re not putting up border infrastructure,” the spokesman said, adding: 

There are no preparations for a hard border.

A bilateral arrangement with the UK has also been ruled out, but there are “absolutely no preparations for a hard border”, he repeated. However, it was confirmed to reporters that World Trade Organisation rules kick in at 11.01pm on 29 March in a no-deal scenario.

“The focus needs to be on the withdrawal agreement,” he said, adding that it’s up to the UK to come up with alternatives to avoid a hard border if the withdrawal agreement is rejected.

If not the withdrawal agreement, “it has to be something else… we need to see this now” the media was told.

The government spokesperson said the government was not in denial and shot down any accusations that the Irish government was being dishonest with the Irish public when it says that it has no plans for dealing with a hard border.

‘A real dilemma’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said today that what would happen in a no deal scenario would always be a difficult thing to speculate about.

If, in a few weeks’ time, we end up in a scenario where the UK leaves the EU without a deal we will have a real dilemma because Ireland is part of the European Union and we will have obligations to protect the Single Market, the United Kingdom will have joined the World Trade Organisation and will have obligations to implement WTO rules, and the UK and Ireland will have an obligation to honour the Good Friday Agreement, protect the peace process and honour our commitment to the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland that there will not be a hard border.
What would we have to do in that scenario? We would have to negotiate an agreement on customs and regulations that would mean full alignment so there would be no hard border. We already have that agreement and that is the backstop.
Nobody who is opposed to the backstop can credibly state he or she is also against a hard border unless he or she can come up with something else that aligns customs and regulations and allows a border to be avoided. Nobody else has done that yet. There is a reason it took a year and a half or two years to negotiate the backstop. It is because it was difficult to do. We have done it and we cannot give it up in return for a promise that it will be all right on the night or a commitment just to sort it out over the coming two years. It took us 18 months to sort it out. We have a proposal that works and we have to stand by it.

While preparations for the border are non-existent, the Cabinet did discuss nine Brexit preparation memos including single electricity markets and grants for students studying in Britain.

As part of its overall “no-deal actions”, the government today agreed the Heads of legislation, for accelerated drafting of the single omnibus Brexit Bill.

The ‘mega’ Bill, as it has been dubbed by the Tánaiste, is officially named the Miscellaneous Provisions (Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019).

Cabinet granted approval for the Health Minister Simon Harris to draft his section of the Bill which will enable necessary healthcare arrangements to be maintained between Ireland and the UK in a no-deal Brexit.

Rail and bus links in a no-deal Brexit 

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Shane Ross’s section of the Bill will enable and facilitate the continued operation of cross border rail services between Ireland and Northern Ireland – principally the service on the Dublin/Belfast rail line – and the operation of bus/coach services between Ireland and the UK, including Northern Ireland.

Minister for Business, Heather Humphries section will enable Enterprise Ireland to further support businesses through investment, loans and research and development grants.

Minister for Climate, Energy and Communications, Richard Bruton will seek to  provides for the modification of Single Electricity Market licences, while Education Minister Joe McHugh was granted approval to draft his part of the Bill that looks ensure assistance for students who are studying in the UK and students studying in the State who are UK nationals can continue to do so post 29 March.

Minister for Finance, Pascal Donohoe is making changes in relation to taxation reliefs, while Social Protection, Regina Doherty will draft amendments to social welfare legislation to ensure people who get UK pensions will continue to receive them. 

In order to get this mega Bill over the line in time, the Taoiseach met with opposition leaders today to brief them on the legislation and the timeline needed to ensure there is enough time to enact it, if necessary.

The Taoiseach has promised to brief and regularly update Oireachtas members on the progress of the legislation as it is developed over the coming weeks.

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