EU could reject Theresa May’s soft border proposals, Tanaiste says
The Prime Minister has committed to leaving the EU customs union which guarantees tariff-free trade.
Theresa May’s plan to ensure the continuation of a soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic could be rejected by the European Union, Ireland’s foreign minister has suggested.
The Prime Minister has committed to leaving the EU customs union which guarantees tariff-free trade, but insists a hard border can be avoided through technological solutions and placing no new restrictions on the 80% of cross-frontier trade carried out by smaller businesses.
But Irish Tanaiste Simon Coveney told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show he was “not sure that the European Union will be able to support” the plan, as it would be worried about protecting the integrity of the single market.
"It is a very complex thing for Britain to leave the EU... when you add in a fragile peace process this is a significant responsibility for the British government and I'm glad the PM made that clear in her speech" - says @simoncoveney #marr pic.twitter.com/rkf9K5MHNI— The Andrew Marr Show (@MarrShow) March 4, 2018
“While of course we will explore and look at all of the proposed British solutions, they are essentially a starting point in negotiations as opposed to an end point,” he said.
Mr Coveney said if agreement cannot be reached during tri-partite talks between the UK, Ireland and the European Commission, the backstop plan of full British alignment with customs union and single market rules that Mrs May “committed clearly” to in December would have to be put in place.
In a major speech on Friday, Mrs May rejected “unacceptable” EU proposals to retain customs union arrangements in Northern Ireland, but accepted the UK’s “responsibility” to help maintain a soft border with the Republic – spelling out in detail how she believed this could be achieved by technological means or through a broader trade agreement.
But Mr Coveney said: “This isn’t a question of either side wanting to put up borders, but if you have to protect a functioning single market, just the same way Britain wants to protect its own single market, well then you have to understand that if goods move from one customs union to another then there needs to be some checks unless there is some mechanism that is negotiated and put in place that prevents that.”
"It's raised a whole series of questions about how she's going to arrive at the destination she's described" says Lord Mandelson on PM's #Brexit speech— The Andrew Marr Show (@MarrShow) March 4, 2018
But admits "she has described a destination better than she's ever done before" #marr pic.twitter.com/Z7HDYxVZ0h
Mrs May said she was pleased that Irish PM Leo Varadkar had agreed to form the three-way talks to look at her proposals.
And she declined to defend Boris Johnson’s comparison of the border to crossing between London congestion zones in Camden and Islington, but insisted both of them are “absolutely clear” that there will not be a hard border.
“We’ve got proposals as to how we’re going to achieve that, now we’re going to be able to sit down and talk with others about how we’re going to do that,” Mrs May told Marr.
It comes after Downing Street and Mr Johnson denied reports that Mrs May’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell was behind a leak of a memo from the Foreign Secretary in which he said the Government should focus on stopping the Irish border becoming “significantly” harder, reigniting a row over the issue.
Meanwhile, Labour former cabinet minister Lord Mandelson dismissed Mrs May’s Brexit plan.
He told Marr: “What Theresa May is doing is trying to dance on the head of a pin that simply doesn’t exist.”
He added: “It will be painful for the country as a result.”