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Checks at border avoidable even if no-deal Brexit, claims Ireland's man in Brussels

Jeffrey Donaldson
Jeffrey Donaldson

By John Downing

A way can be found to avoid animal and food checks on the border - even in the case of a no-deal Brexit, the Republic's EU Commissioner Phil Hogan has said.

Mr Hogan moved to allay a growing view that checks, especially for live animals, cannot be avoided at the Irish border if the UK quits the EU without a deal on October 31.

Earlier DUP chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he was open to the idea of checks on animals from Great Britain in a no-deal scenario taking place as they arrive anywhere on the island.

Amid ongoing uncertainty in Britain, there is a growing acceptance that the risk of a no-deal Brexit has increased, with a result in the UK Conservative Party leadership election due next week.

But Mr Hogan also held out the hope that a new Prime Minister - be it Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt - can deliver "a good Brexit outcome" this autumn. He insisted that a no-deal result is far from inevitable. The former Fine Gael minister said the entire island of Ireland was already treated as one entity for animal and public health issues.

"We'd like to continue that arrangement and I don't see any difficulty between the UK and the EU in respect of this," Mr Hogan said.

He said the UK has published 16 pieces of legislation, and the EU 19 draft laws, to allow a smooth transition dealing with border issues on a "pragmatic basis".

Mr Hogan said animal health issues on the island of Ireland were the joint responsibility of the Dublin authorities and the Northern Ireland Office, which reported to the EU in Brussels.

"Even in a no-deal situation, we can put in place the necessary protocols so this would not be a problem," he said.

He said that 55% of products coming from Britain to Northern Ireland went via Dublin Port, where they can be checked.

There could also be a system of checks at point of origin and at point of destination.

The commissioner said that the EU and UK could also enter into negotiations on protocols allowing the UK authorities, as a non-EU member, to conduct checks on behalf of the Brussels authorities.

Finally, the EU could itself carry out spot checks to reinforce control systems.

"These are all proposals which are on the table. But for political reasons - particularly due to objections from the Democratic Unionist Party - they have not been treated as reasonable and pragmatic," Mr Hogan added.

This is a reference to the DUP's insistence that there can be no special treatment for Northern Ireland as Brexit happens.

Last week Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had suggested checks at entry ports across Ireland.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey told the Sunday Times that he would urge the Taoiseach to talk to London directly if wants a "pragmatic and sensible" customs solution to agrifoods in the face of a hard border.

"We want to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and are prepared to work with the Irish Government to deepen north-south co-operation so that this can be achieved," the Lagan Valley MP said.

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