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Brexit: Coveney warns UK risks business over border

By Shona Murray

The UK's approach to the Irish border problem is "not compatible" with the solutions Ireland needs, the Republic's Foreign Affairs Minister has warned.

Simon Coveney said ideas put forward to deal with the thorny issue of customs and the border so far - such as waiver schemes - were "neither comprehensive or credible".

He was speaking as a Westminster report cautioned that failure to have a new customs system in place by the Brexit deadline in 2019 would be "catastrophic" if there is no viable fall-back option - with the risk of huge disruption for businesses.

The cross-party House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has warned of huge queues at Dover and food being left to rot in trucks at the border.

The number of declarations which HM Revenue and Customs must process each year could increase almost five-fold after Brexit - from 55m to 255m. But HMRC does not yet have the funding to increase the capacity of its new Customs Declaration Service (CDS).

Its report stressed that "much remains to be done" to have an effective CDS system in place on time and urged the Treasury to ensure that funding is in place to develop contingency plans to avoid gaps in the service.

The committee's chairwoman, Labour MP Meg Hillier, said: "Failure to have a viable customs system in place before the UK's planned exit from the EU would wreak havoc for UK business, trade and our international reputation. Confidence would collapse amid the potentially catastrophic effects."

However, the paper also notes London's position is to maintain a common travel area with the Republic so there is no border.

Mr Coveney said: "It would be much easier to deal with an orderly Brexit if Britain were to be part of the same customs union - if Britain were to agree to avoid regulatory divergence from the standards and regulation within the Single Market. If the rulebook for producing food for example is different in Northern Ireland to Ireland, well then of course that creates the need for barriers because you have to have a checking system and so on.

"We find it very difficult to see how you can have a functioning all-island economy.

"It's very hard to maintain that post-Brexit if Northern Ireland is not part of the same customs union, if Northern Ireland has a different regulatory environment."

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