Irish Government rejects claims it has ‘misled’ public over border checks

By Cate McCurry, PA

Ireland’s European minister has denied that the Government has misled the public over border infrastructure, after the European Commission president said that Brussels will insist on border checks if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Helen McEntee said the Irish Government has been “very clear and very honest” about what will happen if the UK crashes out of the EU at the end of October.

On Sunday, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that Brussels will insist on border checks if there is a no-deal Brexit, in order to preserve the interests of the European Union.

Speaking in Dublin on Monday, Ms McEntee rejected suggestions that the Government has been “misleading”, if the contingency plan to prevent a hard border is not in place.

“What we’ve said in recent months, as it’s been looking more likely a no-deal is possible, there will have to be checks, they won’t be on the border, they cannot be a security threat,” she said.

“The (EU) Commission has been very clear in saying that the twin objectives are to do just that, ensure that there’s no infrastructure on the border, but also to protect us in the single market.

“If you listen to Jean-Claude Juncker yesterday, what he said is that there will have to be checks, and we accept that.

Helen McEntee said the Government has been very honest (Niall Carson/PA)

“He also said that they could not be on the border, there could not be a hard border between North and South, and also that we cannot go back in history, that we cannot allow history to repeat itself.

“We know what happened in the past when we had checks along the border and infrastructure along the border.

“So anything that we’re doing now, particularly in the event of no-deal, will not replicate the backstop, it will not be as good as what we have negotiated now.

“But it will hopefully meet the twin objectives to prevent border infrastructure and also to protect the single market and our place in it.”

Her comments come as the Irish premier Leo Varadkar is due to meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday in New York.

Mr Johnson, who has demanded that the backstop should be scrapped, met Mr Varadkar in Dublin two weeks ago.

Ms McEntee said that Mr Varadkar will outline the Irish Government’s concerns.

She added: “My understanding, and I think similar to their meeting two weeks ago, which was a very positive meeting, the Taoiseach will, yet again, outline our concerns, not just in terms of Brexit, but obviously the fact that we don’t have a functioning Executive in Northern Ireland, which is crucial to all of this.

“But he will also say that we are very willing, we’re very open and ready to accept any proposals that the UK may have, to replace or attempt to deal with  the backstop.

“We know the papers were presented to the Commission last Thursday, they weren’t actual legal papers, they did not fulfil the same requirements as the backstop, so we need more.

“There is still a huge gap between what we need and what has been presented by the UK, and in order to reach an agreement by October 31 we really do need to see more progress from the UK.”