Government gears up for showdown with WTO on future of soft Border


Government gears up for showdown with WTO on future of soft Border

Unite union boss Len McCluskey stages a protest in London with a giant roulette wheel to
warn of the danger to jobs from Brexit. Picture: PA
Unite union boss Len McCluskey stages a protest in London with a giant roulette wheel to
warn of the danger to jobs from Brexit. Picture: PA

The Government is gearing up for a major confrontation with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over the commitment to retain a soft Border in Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

With chaos continuing in London, Ireland is ramping up preparations to cope with the UK crashing out of the EU.

The Irish Independent understands that among the contingency plans being considered is a resourcing of Revenue to deal with the increase in customs-checked transactions that will take place after Brexit.

Revenue is investing in new data storage systems, security and staff to facilitate the increase.

Now Government sources say they are prepared for major confrontation with WTO officials, who will insist on a Border with the North as part of strict trade laws.

“That’s just not politically deliverable; we won’t be doing it,” a source said. “Brussels knows we can’t go back to the borders of the past; it’ll be a very difficult and different conversation.”

“Everybody knows – including the WTO – how politically sensitive the Border issue is, but it can’t just be accepted as ‘politically sensitive’; they need to know it simply can’t happen; it’s not going to happen,” the source said. “It’s going to be a very difficult conversation if it comes to that.”

However, under WTO laws, Ireland and the EU will be obliged to install one for customs and regulatory checks as UK territory will be classed as a third country, outside EU jurisdiction for goods.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar remained firm on his commitment the soft Border would be retained and said no plans were in the pipeline to prepare for such an outcome.

The Fine Gael leader said he was confident there would be a backstop agreed in October and a withdrawal agreement. He expects the EU to reaffirm its commitment to the retention of a soft Border later this week following a meeting of Europe’s foreign affairs ministers.

Opposition parties have raised concern that an amendment passed in the UK parliament this week makes the backstop legally impossible.

An amendment was passed that precludes Northern Ireland from having a different customs arrangement from the UK.

Previously, Theresa May rejected a suggestion that special status be given to Northern Ireland that would separate it from the rest of the UK.

The Taoiseach also predicted Mrs May’s political challenges will not recede in the coming months but said that did not change Ireland’s position.

“We are going to see many more twists and turns, but that shouldn’t give us cause for panic and shouldn’t give us any reason to change our position,” he said.

Given the turmoil in Westminster, the Government was ramping up preparations for a no-deal scenario, he said.

However, he added he still believed this was unlikely.

Mr Varadkar said steps taken to deal with Brexit included a balancing of the public finances and expanded resources for overseas staff and bodies such as Bord Bia to encourage market diversification.

The next steps now include equipping airports and ports to deal with increased activity. Around 500 additional staff are to be recruited, it is understood.

Tanáiste Simon Coveney is to bring an update to Cabinet today that will outline the contingency plans being made across all Government departments.

The central contingency plans will have to be ready for March 2019, and the cost formally factored in by October.

They also involve special grants for industry; particularly agriculture to diversify products away from the UK market, to other countries.

As a tumultuous week continued in Westminster, Mrs May saw off a challenge to her plans when a rebel Tory move that looked to force Britain to try to stay in a customs union with the EU was defeated.

Irish Independent

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