Brexit customs deal may still lead to Irish border checks - minister

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Border checks could be required on the island of Ireland even if Britain strikes a “very satisfactory” customs agreement with the European Union if the post-Brexit deal does not keep standards aligned, Ireland’s agriculture minister said on Wednesday.

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The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland will be the UK’s only land frontier with the EU after it leaves and Dublin hopes a new customs union partnership between Britain and the EU will remove the threat of a hard border returning.

However Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said that unless that agreement requires Britain to maintain the same regulatory standards as the EU, some border checks could be required.

“Though we may negotiate a very satisfactory agreement on customs and tariffs, without having stitched into that an element to deal with regulatory alignment, we may well have a situation that, because of a divergence in standards, there’s an obligation to have checks at borders,” Creed told reporters.

“The UK, who would then be free to conduct its own trade agreement, could be a backdoor for entry into the European Union market of products that are not regulatory equivalent to that which our manufacturers are obliged to meet,” he said.

“Regulatory alignment is as important as the issue as customs and tariffs.”

Britain’s Brexit minister said on Tuesday that London and the EU could reach a deal to access each others’ markets, and dismissed fears Britain would use Brexit to cut regulation to attract global businesses, despite past threats to do so.

Britain pledged in December that if it cannot strike the kind of trade deal it wishes, Northern Ireland would remain aligned with the rules of the EU’s single market and customs union, both of which London is officially committed to leaving.

In the same agreement, Britain said it would keep Northern Ireland aligned with the rest of the UK as well. It remains unclear how Britain can fully meet all of these pledges

Creed said Britain’s guarantee that the issue of a hard border will not arise and that it would maintain regulatory alignment north and south was “really, really important.”

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Robin Pomeroy