Martin’s fears for Ireland, UK relations

FF leader: Contingency plans ‘too little too late’

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Photo: Mark Condren
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Photo: Mark Condren

Micheal Martin has claimed the Government’s contingency planning on Brexit is “late in the day” and raised concern over relations between Dublin and London, which he said are “poor”.

The Fianna Fail leader also argued the relationship between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Theresa May “doesn’t seem strong”.

He said: “I think that’s a worry because, at the end of the day, when Brexit happens, we cannot underestimate the importance of that relationship to our economy.”

Mr Martin’s remarks come as concerns grow about the prospect of a hard Brexit.

In a major speech in Belfast last Friday, Mrs May repeated her rejection of a so-called backstop that would effectively see a trade border along the Irish Sea if the UK crashes out of Europe without a deal.

She reiterated her goal of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland by reaching an overall Brexit deal with the EU. However, fears have increased that even if such a deal can be done, it will be rejected by MPs at Westminster.

Mrs May’s fragile hold on power was demonstrated by a series of narrow House of Commons votes on Brexit last week.

Here, the Government announced details of its contingency planning. This includes the need for additional controls and checks at ports and airports and plans for around 1,000 new customs and veterinary inspectors by 2021.

Mr Martin said: “It’s late in the day to be making these announcements”.

He claimed there has been an “incoherence” in the Government’s approach to Brexit. He noted that the backstop deal was described as “bulletproof” by the Taoiseach last December. Mr Martin said there had been an expectation that legal text for this would be agreed in March and again before a European Council meeting in June but “none of that happened”.

He said there has been “backsliding” by Britain since the December commitment.

Mr Martin said key to minimising the damage of Brexit will be the trading relationship with Britain. He said east-west access is “critical to the Irish economy” particularly for agri-food and small and medium-sized companies.

He remained hopeful that a deal on the Border can be reached as “all sides are committed to no border”.

A spokesperson for Mr Varadkar did not directly address Mr Martin’s criticisms, instead pointing to remarks made by the Taoiseach last Friday after Mrs May’s Belfast speech.

Mr Varadkar said the Government “don’t want any barriers to trade or a border north-south or east-west” and said the backstop put forward by the EU in March is “workable” and gives the guarantee to avoid a hard border.

He also said: “If the UK has alternative proposals as to how we can achieve that, we are happy to consider them”.

Separately, gardai are conducting a major security review on the impact of a possible hard Brexit, particularly in Border counties.

Sources said the review will highlight opportunities for crime in terms of smuggling, the impact on European policing and the additional resources required.

John O’Keeffe of the Garda Representative Association said a hard border would necessitate full-time permanent checkpoints along the main Border crossing points.

With resources at their current level, he said only a dozen of the around 208 crossings along the 308-mile Border are capable of being fully manned. “Even if Brexit were never to occur, there are still not enough resources in place to properly police this large rural Border hinterland,” he said.

The Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, assured rank-and-file gardai at their annual conference in May that there will be no sealed border with Northern Ireland but a ‘hard border’ is possible.

In Britain, hard-line Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg predicted that the UK is heading for a no-deal exit from the EU and, speaking on LBC radio, claimed this is “nothing to be frightened of”.

Meanwhile, Mrs May was digging in on her Brexit deal offer to Brussels after the EU publicly doubted that it is workable. UK government sources insisted she is “standing over” the Chequers cabinet compromise on withdrawal plans.

That is despite a mauling of the initiative by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier. Mr Barnier openly questioned the credibility of the UK’s proposals in his first response to the government’s White Paper on Brexit.

And in comments that will likely alarm arch-Brexiteers in Tory ranks, Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness, told the BBC that Mrs May would need to abandon some of her red lines to clinch a deal.

She said: “It’s a starting point, it’s not an end deal.”

Sunday Independent

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