Northern Ireland news

Hard border 'obvious' in no-deal Brexit says EU chief

The border between the Republic and Northern Ireland in the village of Bridgend, Co Donegal. Picture by Brian Lawless, Press Association
By Mairead Holland

IRELAND is headed for a hard border if a no-deal Brexit goes ahead, the European Commission's chief spokesman has said.

Margaritis Schinas made the comments at the commission's daily media briefing yesterday.

He said if he was asked to speculate on what might happen in a no-deal scenario, "it is pretty obvious: you will have a hard border".

"And 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," he added.

"So, of course we are for peace; of course we stand behind the Good Friday Agreement but that's what a withdrawal... that's a no-deal scenario, that's what it [would] entail."

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But Sarah Meade, spokeswoman for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, said: "Regardless of Brexit, the British government will always have responsibilities as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement to ensure that, even in a no deal, there will not be a return to a border.

"We will not accept a hard border on this island and therefore we are not planning for one."

Later, Mr Varadkar told the Dail: "Both 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 won't be a hard border.

"We would have to negotiate an agreement on customs and regulations that meant full alignment so there will be no hard border."

Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney said the focus should be on the backstop "to ensure that we do have a credible legal mechanism and a regulatory mechanism to prevent border infrastructure".

"Our focus remains on that, that is the solution, that is how we prevent this issue becoming a real problem," he added.

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Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said it was "very concerning" that Mrs May had not removed the option of a no-deal from the table.

"I do think it's concerning that the clock is ticking and although there's a parliamentary majority (in Westminster) that says we don't want a hard border, we don't want a crash, that the Prime Minister still is not willing to officially take that option off the table," she said.

Meanwhile, Green MP Caroline Lucas warned of a potential "collapse of law and order" and a threat to peace in Northern Ireland if Brexit went ahead without a deal.

Speaking at a People's Vote press conference in Westminster, Ms Lucas said: "The Government has not put 3,500 troops on stand-by to hand out plastic Union flags for everyone to wave at their no-deal Brexit street parties.

"It's put troops on stand-by to help deal with the potential collapse of law and order."

She added: "I think it is unforgivable to be playing games with peace in Northern Ireland."

However, in a tweet, DUP MP Sammy Wilson MP accused the EU of "more belligerent bluffing ... in a desperate attempt to up the ante. It didn’t work before and it won’t work now".

And East Derry DUP MP Gregory Campbell accused the European Union of scaremongering and said it must "spell out what exactly this hard border would look like".

"The peace and stability of Northern Ireland should not be exploited as a bargaining chip by people who appreciate very little what life living on the Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland border is really like,” he said.

The UK and Irish governments have both pledged to avoid a hard border.

But last week Prime Minister Theresa May said the EU had made it clear "there will be no flexibility on border checks in no deal".

Mrs May's withdrawal agreement was overwhelmingly rejected in Parliament and MPs are due to vote on an amended version on January 29.


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