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Republic of Ireland to begin Brexit customs checks and controls away from border

Legislation: Phil Hogan
Legislation: Phil Hogan

By Hugh O'Connell

New customs checks and controls are set to be rolled out at ports and factories in the Republic as the Irish Government now accepts a hard Brexit is increasingly likely in just 10 weeks' time.

A high-level secret plan is still under discussion between the Irish Government and the European Commission.

It's understood it will involve new customs checks and controls on goods and veterinary checks on animals away from the border at ports, factories and food-processing plants after October 31 if the UK leaves without a deal.

Such measures - to ensure the Republic complies with strict EU single market rules - are likely to create a logistical nightmare and lengthy delays, with government officials increasingly concerned by the lack of preparation by Irish businesses for a hard Brexit.

"Of course the big issue on any day one [after Brexit] is going to be logistical difficulties," Ireland's EU Commissioner Phil Hogan admitted.

In a no-deal scenario Irish officials will have to monitor goods and animals coming into the Republic from Northern Ireland.

A number of options for mitigating the impact of this are on the table but it's "not going to be pretty", a source said. Checks will be at the "point of origin or destination, so the factories or ports" a European Commission source said, adding there would be "leeway" in the days after the UK crashes out.

Relations between the UK and Ireland were further strained yesterday by an extraordinary pre-planned attack by Mr Hogan on Prime Minister Boris Johnson whom he said was "unelected" and "gambling" with the Good Friday Agreement.

Tanaiste Simon Coveney ruled out bilateral talks with the UK, accusing Mr Johnson of trying to "steamroll" Ireland with "new red lines".

Mr Hogan's speaking points for an event near the border contained strident criticism of Mr Johnson. Although he did not utter them at the event in Louth, they were circulated with the tacit support of the EU leadership.

"The UK Government needs to take responsibility for its choices before it is too late. Prime Minister Johnson's hero is Winston Churchill and he seems to view himself as a modern day Churchill," Mr Hogan stated.

"However, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK Government's only Churchillian legacy will be: 'Never have so few done so much damage to so many'."

The growing expectation that a no-deal Brexit is on the cards was underlined by Mr Coveney, who said it was now "far more likely". He said "limited checks" would take place away from the border.

Mr Hogan said checks "could be at point of origin or at point of destination".

He said 55% of exports from the UK to Northern Ireland come through Dublin Port and are already automatically checked, but he raised issues around what would happen in Belfast, Larne and Warrenpoint ports.

"It's about the controls and checks to reassure the consumer that the quality of the product, whether it's product safety or food safety or whatever, they have to get reassurance in mainland of Ireland or the mainland in Europe and in mainland of the United Kingdom, whatever," Mr Hogan said.

Without any deal there will be an onus on the Republic to protect the integrity of the single market.

An all-island regime for sanitary and phytosanitary checks (SPS) on animals would help to do this, commission sources said, but such an agreement may not be possible in a crashout scenario.

Agri-business, including many beef farmers, will be devastated by the reversion to WTO tariffs once the UK becomes a third country. But Mr Hogan insisted there would be up to €1bn in financial support for the EU agriculture sector.

"There's ongoing negotiations and discussions about all scenarios and we're ready. We have 19 pieces of legislation approved in the European Union and we have 16 pieces of legislation that are approved by the UK," he said.

"We have to work together to ensure that we have a seamless transition towards ensuring that there's not major disruption for people's lives."

Officially, the European Commission has refused to say if Dublin's plans to carry out checks away from the border would satisfy its EU obligations.

"Only the regulatory and customs alignment provided for under the backstop allows for maintaining the status quo on the island of Ireland," a spokesman warned.

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