LONDON — Boris Johnson’s new Brexit proposals “fall short in a number of aspects,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said today, as he indicated his government would sooner see a no-deal Brexit than sign up to a permanent deal requiring checks on trade across the Irish border.
Speaking in Stockholm after a meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, Varadkar said the “two major obstacles” to a deal based on Johnson’s proposals were the customs elements of the plan – which envisions checks on goods away from the border — and the plan for the Northern Ireland Assembly and executive in Belfast to be able to veto the plan.
“The proposals that have been put forward by the U.K. are certainly welcome in the sense that we now have written proposals that we can engage on,” Varadkar said. “But they do fall short in a number of aspects … We need to explore in much more detail the customs proposals being put forward as it’s very much the view of the Irish government and people of Ireland north and south that there shouldn’t be customs checkpoints or tariffs on trade north and south.”
The Irish prime minister said there had only ever been five ways to avoid a hard border: a united Ireland, Ireland rejoining the U.K., the U.K. remaining in the EU, the U.K. agreeing to stay in the single market and customs union, or the backstop plan contained in Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement.
There was no majority on the island of Ireland for the first option, he said, despite some polls suggesting there might be. The second was “never going to happen,” he added, but on the third he said that “all the polls suggest that is what the British people actually want but their political system isn’t able to give that to them that choice.”
Varadkar said that Johnson’s insistence on Thursday morning that customs checks would require no new physical infrastructure anywhere on the island was “in contradiction to the papers presented by the U.K. government yesterday” and that any consent mechanism for Belfast should not give “any one party, of any denomination, a veto.”
The governing institutions in Belfast have not been in place since power-sharing between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin collapsed in January 2017. The U.K. government has not been clear how consent could be granted in their absence.
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The DUP back Johnson’s proposals but Sinn Fein does not.
Varadkar indicated that Ireland may prefer a no-deal Brexit to signing up to an agreement that would permanently enshrine the need for checks on north-south trade on the island.
“It may be the case that we have to live no deal for a period of time,” he said.
“Ireland will do what is necessary to protect the single market, to ensure our place in the single market is protected,” he added, although he said that plans for dealing with trade crossing the land border with the U.K. had not yet been agreed with the European Commission.
Any such arrangement may require Ireland to impose single market checks at the frontier.
But Varadkar said that living with no-deal “for a period of time while we negotiate a deal, or while we pursue other solutions, is very different to an Irish government actually signing up in an international treaty to putting in place checks between north and south. That’s something we can’t countenance.”