Leo Varadkar acknowledges discussions on avoiding hard border in no-deal Brexit

Irish premier Leo Varadkar has insisted a specialist taskforce has not been set up to address the issue of the border on the island of Ireland in a no-deal scenario.

But Mr Varadkar acknowledged discussions are happening between EU leaders about how a hard border can be avoided if the UK crashes out of the EU.

The Taoiseach’s comments came in response to a request from German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the EU ramp up its plans to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event of a no-deal scenario.

Ms Merkel asked EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to examine a fall-back plan to uphold the Good Friday Agreement in a no-deal situation.

The discussion between the pair and a number of other leaders took place on Thursday during the EU summit in Brussels.

It is understood it was the first time that EU leaders had discussed what would happen to the border if the UK crashes out of the EU.

Asked about the discussions Irish premier Mr Varadkar said “no taskforce” was being set up to address the border issue.

But he said talks had taken place.

“There’s no taskforce being set up or anything of that nature,” he said.

“What that derives from is something that we’ve spoken about before, is that what will happen in a no-deal scenario, how we will uphold the Good Friday Agreement, keep the border with Northern Ireland open and still fulfil our obligations in European treaties to protect the single market and make sure Ireland is still fully a member of the single market and that the border doesn’t become a backdoor to the single market.

“It’s of that nature, those types of discussions that we would have to have.”

He made the remarks at the end of the two-day summit in the Belgian capital.

Brexit
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Michelle Devane/PA)

It comes as Irish European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee said avoiding a hard border in a no-deal Brexit scenario would be very difficult.

But Mr Varadkar said “special arrangements” would have to be made if the UK leaves without the deal and that those special arrangements would look like the backstop.

He said in a no-deal scenario the British government intended to treat Northern Ireland differently, “not to apply tariffs and not to apply the kinds of enforcement measures” that it would in other areas.

“There is a rolling acknowledgement that the only way you can avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland is special arrangements, and it is the detail of those we’ll need to work through,” he said.

“But if you want to know what they look like, they look like the backstop.”

Brexit
Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee (Brian Lawless/PA)

On Friday morning Ms McEntee said the risk of the UK leaving the EU without an agreement remained “very strong”, but insisted Ireland was still not planning for border checks.

Ms McEntee said the Dublin government would only enter into negotiations with the UK and EU Commission on how a future border would work when, or if, it became clear that a no-deal is the only option.

“If a no-deal scenario is the only option left and looking like that is going to happen, then we need to sit down with the Commission and with the UK and we need to understand and work with each other, and essentially this is negotiation as to how we can avoid borders on the island of Ireland and, be under no illusion, it’s very difficult without a deal,” she told RTE Radio One.

“We are not planning for a hard border and we have always said that.

“When it gets to the point, and if it gets to the point, and we hope it does not, that if a no-deal scenario is the only likely and possible outcome then we need to engage with the UK and with the Commission as to how we would do that, but until that happens we will not be planning for a border.”

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