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Empey hits out over Juncker's comments on no-deal Brexit border control

British nationals wave EU and Spanish flags as they take part in a protest against Brexit in Malaga yesterday
British nationals wave EU and Spanish flags as they take part in a protest against Brexit in Malaga yesterday
Jean-Claude Juncker
Leo Varadkar

By David Hughes

Jean-Claude Juncker's assertion that there would have to be border controls in the event of a no-deal Brexit would mean the "bizarre scenario" of the Irish government erecting a hard border at the behest of the EU, the Ulster Unionists have claimed.

With the UK not prepared to do the same, it would turn history on its head, Lord Empey said.

European Commission president Mr Juncker yesterday insisted that Brussels was "in no way responsible" for the consequences of a no-deal Brexit, saying the blame would lay squarely with the UK.

But he said "we can have a deal", and Boris Johnson's proposals for dealing with the problems Brexit will create at the border with Ireland were the basis for progress.

The senior Brussels official said: "We have to make sure that the interests of the European Union and of the internal market will be preserved.

"An animal entering Northern Ireland without border control can enter without any kind of control the European Union via the southern part of the Irish island.

"This will not happen. We have to preserve the health and the safety of our citizens."

Calling for "an Irish solution to an Irish problem", Lord Empey said Dublin should be working with London and parties in Northern Ireland to ensure that a hard border is avoided. Lord Empey said: "The statement over the weekend by Jean-Claude Juncker that a hard border will return to Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit has exposed the weakness in the negotiating position of the Varadkar government in Dublin.

"By leaving the negotiation exclusively to the EU, Mr Juncker is saying that Dublin will have to erect a hard border in order to protect the health and safety of EU citizens. Is this really what the people in any part of the island of Ireland want? Is Mr Varadkar prepared to do this, and how?

"It would be the most bizarre scenario to see an Irish government erecting a border, at the behest of the EU, while the UK does nothing north of the border. It's history turned on its head.

"This scenario is still avoidable and Dublin will have to recognise that there are two sides to this argument."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has demanded the backstop - the contingency plan to prevent a hard border by keeping the UK aligned with many of Brussels' rules - should be scrapped.

Mr Juncker told Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday: "We have to make sure that there will be no hard and physical border between the two parts of the Irish island and things have to be done on a level playing field.

"If these three objectives are met by the alternative arrangements, then we don't need the backstop. The backstop was never an instrument having been put in place for whatever will happen. No, it was put in place in order to preserve the rights of the internal market and of the island of Ireland."

But in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Mr Juncker said there would have to be checks. He added: "I'm not an architect of new border stations. The British have to tell us exactly the architectural nature of this border.

"I don't like a border because after the Good Friday Agreement, and this Good Friday Agreement has to be respected in all its parts, the situation in Ireland has improved. We should not play with this."

Mr Johnson is expected to meet Mr Varadkar at the UN General Assembly in New York early this week as world leaders convene for the UN's Climate Action Summit. He will also meet Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, as well as European Council president Donald Tusk, as the PM tries to reach an agreement ahead of the October 31 Brexit deadline.

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