"No deal" Brexit and the Irish border

Submitted by AWL on 23 January, 2019 - 9:10 Author: Micheál MacEoin

In response to Theresa May’s defeat in her EU Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons on 15 January, and the looming prospect of a “no deal” Brexit, Irish transport minister Shane Ross told reporters at a press conference that he “would anticipate that there would be checks” on lorries coming from Scotland to the Republic of Ireland via Northern
Ireland.

Afterwards, speaking “privately” to Foreign Minister Simon Coveney (so Ross thought, but his words were caught on microphone), he asked whether or not he should have revealed that fact.

Coveney responded: “Yes, but we can’t get into where they’ll be at this stage. They could be in the sea, they could be … But once you start talking about checks anywhere near the border, people will start delving into that and all of a sudden we’ll be the government that reintroduced a physical border on the island of Ireland.”

During leader’s questions in the Dáil, Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, said: “It seems there is a private understanding and knowledge of a border in the aftermath of a no­deal Brexit, but at all costs that private understanding must not be shared with the public.”

Taoiseach [prime minister] Leo Varadkar, insisted: “The preparation for checks are being made at ports and airports. There are no preparations for checks along the land border.”

Foreign Minister Simon Coveney insisted, however that it “remains our view that the only way to secure an orderly withdrawal is to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement”.

The Irish government says that the Agreement, especially its “backstop” provisions to avoid a “hard border” by keeping Northern Ireland under EU economic rules even if the UK moves away from them, should not be up for renegotiation.

The only way this makes sense is that the Irish government is betting on any “no deal” scenario being a short-­lived interval until a “deal” can be cobbled together between the UK and the EU.

The Irish cabinet met on 16 January to agree memos on the Common Travel Area (CTA) between the UK and Ireland, transport, and medicine supplies. 60 to 70% of medicines in Ireland either transit the UK or come from the UK.

Moves are underway to recruit customs officials, expand facilities in sea and air entry points, and advise businesses on preparation.

The majority of legislation required for Brexit preparations is to be contained in an “omnibus” bill, and the
Fine Gael government is keen to consult with the Fianna Fáil opposition to ensure its passage through the
Dáil.

What if there is a “no deal” Brexit? The Dublin government has made detailed preparations for secondary
issues in that scenario but, for domestic political reasons, is desperate to avoid being seen to facilitate a
physical border in Ireland.

On 22 January, Margaritis Schinas, a European Commission spokesman, admitted that: “If you like to
push me and speculate on what might happen in a no­deal scenario in Ireland, I think it’s pretty obvious,
you will have a hard border.”

Yet “no deal” means the UK reverts to trading on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. One expert has
suggested recently that simply failing to apply tariffs on goods entering Northern Ireland from the Republic
would leave the UK open to challenge from other countries under the WTO’s core “most­favoured nation”
rule.

That rule outlaws such preferential treatment.

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