‘It’s not just cus­toms,’ Taoiseach warns May

Irish Independent - - News - Shona Mur­ray

AVOID­ING a hard Border af­ter Brexit in­volves more than just an ar­range­ment on cus­toms, the Taoiseach has warned.

Hopes have been damp­ened this week that a sig­nif­i­cant shift on Brexit would be forth­com­ing from the Bri­tish. The Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent re­ported that Si­mon Coveney is pri­vately brief­ing that Brexit is head­ing to­wards cri­sis point.

Yes­ter­day, Mr Varad­kar re­it­er­ated that there was still a huge amount that needs edto be agreed be­tween all sides.

“There is a lot of work still to be done, if we’re go­ing to make sub­stan­tial progress – the type of progress we need to see in June,” he said.

He was speak­ing af­ter a bi­lat­eral meet­ing with UK Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May on the mar­gins of an EU sum­mit in Bul­garia.

Mrs May of­fered a “ver­bal, con­cep­tual” pro­posal on the UK stay­ing within Europe’s cus­toms struc­ture, but no clear shape of how that would op­er­ate was pre­sented, ac­cord­ing to the Taoiseach and other sources.

“The prime min­is­ter gave me an in­sight into some new think­ing that UK gov­ern­ment has in re­la­tion to cus­toms and we’ll see how that de­vel­ops,” said Mr Varad­kar.

He added that the man­ner in which the pro­pos­als were be­ing in­tro­duced was in­suf­fi­cient. He said: “We need de­tails in black and white.”

Cru­cially, miss­ing from her pro­posal was con­sid­er­a­tion for the sin­gle mar­ket that deals with stan­dards and reg­u­la­tions, par­tic­u­larly large quan­ti­ties of an­i­mal pro­duce that criss-cross be­tween the two ju­ris­dic­tions ev­ery day.

“Any move on cus­toms would be wel­come but I think I need to be very clear – that avoid­ing a hard Border be­tween North­ern

Ire­land and Ire­land is about more than cus­toms,” he said.

“I very much em­pha­sised that re­solv­ing the is­sue of avoid­ing a hard Border re­quires more than cus­toms, but if the UK is go­ing to make a move in that space then its some­thing we’re will­ing to ex­am­ine, but we haven’t seen any­thing yet, noth­ing in writ­ing.”

There had been hope that the UK was about to of­fer a deal that kept them in the cus­toms union for a lim­ited time as an al­ter­na­tive back­stop plan until a deeper part­ner­ship or bet­ter ar­range­ments were made.

Mr Var­dakar was un­will­ing to dis­close ex­actly what the Bri­tish prime min­is­ter had proposed, but he made clear it fell short of Ir­ish ob­jec­tives on the Border and would not work in a place of the back­stop.

None­the­less, the Taoiseach said he “wel­comed” the new think­ing by the Bri­tish side which ap­pears, at least, to move away from the no­tion that tech­no­log­i­cal solutions would suf­fice to avoid a hard Border.

“Any move that the UK might make that would help to align all of the United King­dom and EU in terms of cus­toms in the fu­ture would be ben­e­fi­cial.

“It would help solve some of the prob­lems re­lated to the Border, but not all of them. It would cer­tainly help us trade much like we do now,” he said.

But the Taoiseach said he “re-em­pha­sised” Ir­ish red lines that there would be no flex­i­bil­ity on the Border is­sue.

While he would not say he was en­cour­aged by the ex­change, he said he “wasn’t dis­cour­aged”. “It’s al­ways use­ful to get in­sight in to what the next steps would be but there is a lot of work still to be done if we’re go­ing to make sub­stan­tial progress – the type of progress we need to see in June. There’s a lot of work to be done be­tween now and then.”

Mrs May re­it­er­ated her fa­mil­iar phrase that the UK was “leav­ing the cus­toms union” as she arrived at the sum­mit in Bul­garia.

Photo: AP

Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar meets Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May at a bi-lat­eral meet­ing in Sofia.

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