EU says hard Irish border ‘obvious’ under ‘no-deal’ Brexit as split emerges with Dublin

The EU believes a hard border on the island of Ireland is an “obvious” result of a “no-deal” Brexit  – as signs of a split with Dublin emerged over the issue.

Brussels, Dublin and London have all stated they do no want a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit.

But the EU has given apparent confirmation they would enforce such a scenario should the UK leave the bloc without a withdrawal agreement.

The European Commission’s chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas said: “If you’d like… to push me and speculate on what might happen in a no-deal scenario in Ireland, I think it’s pretty obvious – you will have a hard border.

“Our commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and everything that we have been doing for years with our tools, instruments and programmes will have to take inevitably into account this fact.

“So, of course, we are for peace, of course we stand behind the Good Friday Agreement, but that’s what a no-deal scenario would entail.”



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European Commission delivers a stark warning on Irish border

The comments prompted Ireland’s deputy prime minister Simon Coveney, also his country’s foreign minister, to repeat Dublin’s position that it is not planning for a hard border, even with the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

However, Mr Coveney did admit it would be “very, very difficult” to prevent a hard border without a UK withdrawal agreement.

“The Irish government will not support the re-emergence of border security on this island,” he said.

“We’re not planning for it in no-deal Brexit planning but, certainly, if we don’t have a withdrawal agreement it becomes very, very difficult to prevent that.”

Asked whether the Irish government’s position that there will be no hard border was no longer credible following the EU spokesman’s remarks, Mr Coveney added: “No I don’t.”

Dublin’s stance was reinforced through a statement issued by Mr Coveney’s department, which read: ‘The EU, Ireland and the British government have been clear we do not want a return to a hard border in Ireland.

“That position has not changed.”

With UK MPs having rejected the Brexit deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May, the Irish department for foreign affairs also stressed the “focus” should remain on “Westminster deciding what it wants”.

“We will not accept a hard border on this island and therefore we are not planning for one,” the statement added.

“This will be more difficult to achieve without the withdrawal agreement and would require very difficult discussions with our EU partners.

“Working out suitable customs and trade arrangements compatible with our EU membership will require detailed discussion with the Commission, while the UK will also need to live up to its responsibilities.”

Mrs May’s spokesman stressed how the prime minister has said the UK government will do everything in its power to prevent a hard border.

But they added this wouldn’t happen “just be people sitting around saying there wouldn’t be a [hard] border”.

On Monday, Poland’s foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz broke ranks among remaining EU member states to suggest time-limiting the backstop arrangement within Mrs May’s Brexit deal – which is unpopular with a significant number of MPs – could break the impasse at Westminster over the withdrawal agreement.

Brussels officials have so far reiterated their commitment to the backstop arrangement – aimed at preventing a hard border in the absence of a future UK-EU trade deal – in its existing terms.

ANALYSIS: First cracks emerge in EU unity over Irish border

By Stephen Murphy, Ireland correspondent

There’s little doubt that today’s comments from the European Commission spokesman have ratcheted up the pressure on the Irish government, and surprised many in Dublin.

Leo Varadkar’s government has said time and time again that it is not preparing for a hard border, because the backstop – the insurance policy to prevent a hard border in Ireland – deals with that issue.

But twice now in two days we have seen cracks appearing in the European solidarity with that position, which been remarkably solid and unified throughout the Brexit negotiation process.

Yesterday, there was the suggestion from the Polish foreign minister that there might be a five-year limit on the backstop, which was swiftly shot down by Mr Coveney.

Today Mr Coveney was forced on the defensive again after the comments from Mr Schinas.

The Irish foreign minister deflected questions on the conflict between the EU and Dublin’s positions.

He repeatedly referred to the backstop as being the key to avoiding the hard border, which he said the Irish government wouldn’t accept.

But that did little to address the key point: why the European Commission felt able to point out the “obvious”, while the Irish government continues to assert that there will be no border infrastructure.

For now, Dublin will continue to say that the focus needs to be on Westminster to produce a solution.

But there will be unease in government circles at the first cracks emerging in the hitherto unified European alliance.

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