23 Jan 2019

Hard Irish border talk worries Dublin

Jacob Rees-Mogg today mooted the suspension of Parliament, rattled by the manoeuvres of those backing an amendment that could mean Brexit is pushed back by months. Nicola Sturgeon, emerging from talks with Theresa May, said it was hypocrisy for a Brexiteer who proclaimed the importance of the sovereign UK parliament to try to shut it down.

But meanwhile, in Brussels and Dublin, the Brexit waves are crashing on others.

Yesterday, the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s spokesman, Margaritas Schinas, said no deal would mean a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. The Commission has actually been very careful to avoid spelling this out even though it is the inescapable logic of their position on Brexit. There was something of a rowing back on this in a press conference this morning but then Michel Barnier, the EU Brexit negotiator, turned up in several European papers saying something similar about checks on the border.

It’s reported that Mr Varadkar last night, in private talks with other Irish politicians, made clear his fears for how a no deal Brexit could seriously harm Dublin’s relations with Brussels.

Any Irish government that put any checks on the border would probably be instantly finished. Talks between Brussels and Dublin would start and some think could trundle on for months. But Mr Varadkar is worried that with a leaky border to the EU’s jurisdiction at the Northern Ireland border,  EU patience with Dublin would snap if they failed to impose checks at the border. Mr Varadkar is reported to have raised the prospect in last night’s talks of the EU imposing checks on Irish goods heading for continental ports.

The Irish government has had an extraordinary impact on the Brexit negotiations, keen to protecryt its interests, the Good Friday Agreement and the interests of nationalists in Northern Ireland. It has had voluble expressions of solidarity from EU leaders, countless supportive visits to Dublin, much hugging and back slapping. But some will be wondering if some forces within the EU are signalling they’d like Ireland to relax its own red lines to accommodate Theresa May and help to avoid a no deal Brexit.

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