Northern Ireland news

Taoiseach says British customs checks proposal would be 'bad faith'

LEO Varadkar welcomed Boris Johnson's rejection of leaked proposals for a series of customs posts close to the border, claiming any endorsement of the plans by the British prime minister's would have been "hard evidence of bad faith".

The taoiseach's remarks in the Dáil came on the back of RTÉ reports citing UK proposals for a string of "customs clearance centres" on both sides of the border.

The customs posts, regarded by many as the manifestation of a hard border, would be located between 5-10 miles "back" from the border.

The so-called non-paper proposal, which was immediately met with anger by nationalists and rejected by the Irish government and the EU, was then dismissed by the Tory leader yesterday morning.

Mr Varadkar was challenged over the reports by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who asked his Fine Gael counterpart whether Mr Johnson discussed the plans during their recent meetings in Dublin and New York.

The taoiseach said he was conscious when responding that he was "talking about non-papers that I haven't seen" but that it was "public knowledge" that the UK proposals had exchanged with the EU.

"I very much welcome Boris Johnson's words today when he disowned the non-papers, had he not, in my view, it would be hard evidence of bad faith by the UK government," he said.

He said the leaders had spoken about Brexit "but not customs checks".

"He spoke on occasion about there not being checks on the border which raises the obvious question – where would they be? But we didn't get into detail," he said.

"When the government talks about checks we talk about them being a necessity in no deal, if the UK decides to leave without a deal then there will need to be checks at ports and airports and at business level, and that is in the context of no deal, we've never been in the position to sign up to checks."

The taoiseach said the backstop provided the best solution for avoiding customs checks.

"We spent two years going up and down rabbit holes, because we needed a solution that avoided customs posts," he said.

Mr Varadkar said the British government had promised no hard border or associated checks and that he expected this pledge to be honoured.

"People here don't want a customs border between north and south and no British government should seek to impose customs posts against the will of the people on the island of Ireland," he said.

Mr Martin said Stormont's collapse had damaged the Good Friday Agreement and that regulatory divergence and customs infrastructure would cause further damage.

"The essential message of what he (Boris Johnson) said today is he wants to keep Northern Ireland out of the Customs Union," he said.

"We all agree in this house that Brexit makes no sense, for those who are in business or in farming, and it damages the economy all around."

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