July 28, 2017 / 2:31 PM / 2 years ago

Irish PM says he's against any 'economic border' with Northern Ireland

Ireland is against the imposition of an “economic border” with Northern Ireland and the Irish government is not going to help Britain design one, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Friday.

Ireland's Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrives at a EU leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Julien Warnand/Pool

He was speaking after Northern Irish protestant politicians propping up British Prime Minister Theresa May’s minority government reacted with fury to a report that Dublin wants customs checks on boats and planes between Britain and Ireland rather than along its land border with Northern Ireland.

Ireland’s foreign minister said no such proposal existed.

“As far as this government is concerned there shouldn’t be an economic border. We don’t want one,” Varadkar told reporters at a briefing in Dublin.

He said the border had been political and not economic since the formation of the European single market at the end of 1992.

Having customs checks at ports and airports would allow seamless trade on the island of Ireland and avoid potentially huge disruption for Irish farmers and small businesses on both sides of the Northern Irish border.

But any suggestion of impediments to trade between Northern Ireland and Britain are anathema to Northern Ireland’s unionist majority, many of whom fear Irish nationalists may push to unify British-run Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Varadkar rejected suggestions from some British pro-Brexit politicians that technological solutions such as the tagging of goods and vehicles and computerized customs declaration might allow trade to continue along a “frictionless border.”

“It’s the United Kingdom, it’s Britain that has decided to leave and if they want to put forward smart solutions, technological solutions for borders of the future and all of that that’s up to them,” Varadkar said.

Asked if the position risked angering unionists and supporters of Brexit in Britain, Varadkar suggested that it was Ireland that had the right to be angry at Britain’s decision to renage on earlier agreements.

“What we are not going to do is design a border for the Brexiteers. They are the ones who want a border, it is up to them to say what it is, to say how it would work and to convince their own people, their own voters, that this is a good idea.”

Asked whether he thought the EU would be in a position in October to begin discussions with Britain on a future bilateral relationship, Varadkar said it was not clear, but warned very little progress had been made to date.

Reporting by Conor Humphries Editing by Jeremy Gaunt; padraic.halpin@thomsonreuters.com ; +353 1 500 1529; Reuters Messaging: padraic.halpin.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net

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