No Govt demand for any UK part to stay in Customs Union

Updated / Friday, 10 Nov 2017 14:16

The Taoiseach said there had been agreement that there would no return to the border of the past

The Taoiseach has said there is no demand from the Irish government that any part of the United Kingdom should remain in the Customs Union or the Single Market after Brexit.

Leo Varadkar was speaking at a British-Irish Council Summit in Jersey where he was asked about the revelation of an internal EU memo which suggested that Northern Ireland would need to remain in both in order to avoid a hard border.

He said he was "loth to comment in too much detail on papers that have been leaked to the media".

The Taoiseach said there had been agreement that there would no return to the border of the past.

He said: "When it comes to the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, what we have all agreed to is that there shouldn't be a hard border, there should be no physical infrastructure along that border and that there should be no return to the borders of the past.

"It is our view, and has been our view for a very long time, that the only way that can be achieved is if the United Kingdom as a whole or Northern Ireland continues to apply the rules of the customs union and the single market.

"That doesn't mean that they have to be members of it, but it would mean continuing to apply the rules of the single market and the customs union.

"That's the position that we hold and the best way to achieve our common objectives."

Mr Varadkar said that what was required was that the language which had been agreed to needed to be turned into a reality.

He said the Irish government believed the best way to achieve that was to continue to apply the same sort of rules and regulations.

Earlier, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney had said that more serious and credible answers on the Irish border issue are needed from the UK in Brexit talks with the European Union before talks can move to consider trade relations.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Coveney said that Ireland has had "fantastic solidarity" from the other EU member countries in its approach to the talks.

He said that while everyone would like to move on to talk about phase two, "a scepticism remains" about how the UK will deal with the key issues in relation to Ireland and Northern Ireland.

He refused to say if Ireland would attempt to block talks proceeding to phase two without sufficient agreement on this part of negotiations.

Mr Coveney said Ireland wanted a solution for Northern Ireland and Britain as a whole, to see Britain remain in the customs union, whether through a partnership or an agreement.

He said Fine Gael is holding its party conference in the border area of Cavan this weekend, as it is very concerned about what the future holds in the border area in the context of Brexit.

Mr Coveney said that leaked reports from the EU Task Force team are consistent with Ireland's view that it welcomes the language coming from Britain about protecting the soft border and protecting the Good Friday Agreement, but "there has always been a scepticism about how we will get there".

He said talks would be led by chief EU Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier, but are "in sync and in harmony" with the view that we need a more credible view of how to deal with the border issues more clearly.

Meanwhile, an internal EU paper has suggested that the avoidance of a hard border on the island of Ireland effectively requires Northern Ireland to remain in the single market and the customs union.

The working paper, seen by RTÉ News, says that in order to avoid a hard border it is essential that there be no divergence of rules on either side of the Irish border.

That scenario would effectively require Northern Ireland to remain in the single market and the customs union.

The working paper is described as an internal document from the EU's Brexit Task Force led by Michel Barnier.

It was circulated to the 27 member states on Wednesday night and presented to British negotiators in Brussels yesterday.