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'Northern Ireland and Ireland deserve better': Coveney rejects UK proposals for border customs posts

The Tánaiste described the so-called “non-paper” as a “non-starter”.

Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated Oct 1st 2019, 8:45 AM

TÁNAISTE SIMON COVENEY has rejected the UK’s proposals to replace the controversial Irish backstop with a series of customs posts along the border. 

It was reported yesterday evening that the UK has – as part of a broader set of proposals – suggested creating a set of customs posts along both sides of the Irish border. 

The UK and the EU have been at loggerheads over the backstop, which Brexit supporters say is unacceptable.

The proposals would also create a “customs clearance site” in the North that could be monitored using GPS or tracking devices on trucks.

In response to the proposal, Coveney tweeted: 

Coveney described the so-called “non-paper” as a “non-starter” and said it was time the European Union had “a serious proposal” from the UK government if a deal was to be achieved before the 31 October deadline. 

Coveney added that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland “deserves better”.

The prospect of customs posts returning to the area around the border has been one of the most recurring fears since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016. 

There have been repeated warnings that infrastructure along the border could become a target for dissident violence. 

‘No credible solution’

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today, European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee said the so-called non-paper proposal was “not acceptable to us as a government and not acceptable to the [European] commission”.

McEntee stressed that neither the Irish government nor the EU had accepted any such proposals from the UK and that time was running out with “no credible solution” emerging from the UK side. 

Said McEntee: “It leaves us in a much more difficult position. The longer it goes on the less time we have. We would have expected or hoped for something later on this week.

“It’s simply not going to be acceptable. We find ourselves with just a week left. The ball is in the court of the UK like it has been for weeks and months.”

‘Utterly unworkable’ 

Many political figures have responded with disbelief that these were the best proposals the UK could produce, despite repeatedly being told by the EU and Ireland that a ‘hard border’ would be a threat to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. 

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: “If Boris Johnson had spent any time listening to businesses and communities in Northern Ireland, he would know that these proposals are utterly unworkable.”

The comments came after the Prime Minister said he remained “cautiously optimistic” about the prospect of a deal despite the limited time available ahead of the scheduled October 31 withdrawal date.

He said the UK side had made some “pretty big moves” towards a deal but it was up to Brussels to respond to find the right “landing zone”.

The Fine Gael Spokesperson on EU Affairs Neale Richmond told BBC Radio 4 yesterday evening that the prospect of customs checks, as proposed by the UK, were “very worrying”. 

“It is additional infrastructure, it is additional checks and it is a retrograde step that brings us back to an older time that we’d all agreed we’d moved on from,” he said. 

“The British government has to make serious proposals. If these are the proposals, they’re far from serious.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald wrote on Twitter that “the British proposal to reimpose a hard border on our island” would be “out of the question”. 

“It is further evidence of Tory recklessness and belligerence towards Ireland.”

She later told reporters that it is her view that Johnson “is playing chicken” with the European Union. 

McDonald told TheJournal.ie that the UK Prime Minister is “running down the clock”.

 

She said the question now is whether Johnson is actually serious about reaching a deal. The Sinn Féin leader said any customs or checks near or on the border are not acceptable. 

There is still time to reach agreement, she said, adding that now is the time for the UK to present their alternatives to the backstop.

Fianna Fáil’s Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers said that the proposals were not a “satisfactory” alternative to the backstop. 

“With 30 days now to go until Brexit we need to see sensible workable solutions that ensure no hard border on the island of Ireland,” she wrote on Twitter

Labour leader Brendan Howlin also labelled the plans “completely unacceptable”. 

“The UK is well aware that a mass of new border checks, wherever sited, breach the agreement reached with the May government to avoid regulatory barriers to trade,” Howlin wrote on Twitter.

The widespread rejection of the proposals comes after a particularly turbulent period in the UK after Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament was declared unlawful by the UK Supreme Court. 

Johnson is legally obliged by the Benn Act to ask the EU for an extension if no deal is reached by 19 October. 

This plan seems likely to be rejected by the EU, raising the prospect of a no-deal exit if Johnson finds a way to avoid asking for an extension. The prime minister has repeatedly said that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October. 

TheJournal.ie has asked the DUP – which has opposed the backstop but supports Brexit – if the party could back the proposals. No senior member of the party has yet commented on the proposed plans.

The Daily Telegraph’s Tuesday front page story reports that Johnson had been set to reveal his Brexit plans to EU leaders “within the next 24 hours”. 

Social Democrats joint leader Catherine Murphy also rejected the proposal as a “non runner”. 

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, who has carved out a vocal anti-Brexit position for her party, said that she wanted the UK government to “get its act together and recognise the seriousness of this”. 

She said that the proposal was “unworkable”. 

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that “people in the North didn’t vote for this”. 

“Infrastructure of this nature will damage our economy with no conceivable benefit. That is the price of this twisted ideology and we refuse to pay it,” he said. 

With reporting from Cónal Thomas

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