‘Obvious challenges’ with UK exit plan, warns Irish minister

The Irish Minister for European Affairs has said there are “concerns” and “obvious challenges” with the UK’s submitted plans to leave the EU.

Helen McEntee, speaking on Thursday morning, said she welcomed the plans after months of “ideas and non-papers”, but repeatedly voiced concerns about the contents of the proposals submitted by Boris Johnson to EU Commission President Jean-Claude Junker on Wednesday afternoon.

She said: “The European Commission are still pouring over the plan, as are we, I think from an initial look there are some concerns about the proposals but it is a basis for discussion, but we have to be clear that our objectives are clear and they won’t change.

“I’ve always said there are grounds for a deal but there are key objectives we need to meet: Protecting the Good Friday Agreement, to prevent border infrastructure on the island of Ireland, protecting the economy and the single market, and Ireland’s place in it.”

Referring to British newspaper headlines that claimed Dublin was now under pressure to accept the proposals, Ms McEntee said it was not.

“Our EU partners have stood beside us for the last three-and-a-half years, and that has not changed,” she said.

“We are not coming under pressure to change those key objectives.

“The commission will, as all our European partners will, look at the proposals set out, they’re a basis for discussions but there are obvious concerns within that paper.

“It’s positive papers have been tabled because for some time we’ve had non-papers and ideas, and stories about what might be in papers, so the fact that we have them now submitted to the commission is a positive step.

“As I said, there is obvious concerns about what is in the paper, particularly around the customs, because our objectives are that there will be no infrastructure or checks on this island, and if you have separate customs bases then that poses a challenge in that regard.

“It was submitted yesterday, there are some obvious challenges with it but we need to allow the commission time to look at it and engage with the UK.”

Ms McEntee was speaking at Dublin Port, where customs and revenue staff have been hiring and training hundreds of new personnel at a 24-hour-a-day call centre to deal with trade inquiries in the event of a no-deal brexit on October 31.

Staff at the port, although hopeful for a deal, told the PA news agency that they base all plans on staffing and training on the UK crashing out of the EU in less than four weeks.

The Prime Minister is selling his plans around keeping Northern Ireland tied to the EU single market rules for trade in goods while leaving the customs union with the rest of the UK as a “fair and reasonable compromise”.

Leo Varadkar and Mr Johnson spoke by phone on Wednesday evening. Afterwards, a statement from the Irish Government said the Taoiseach would study the proposals further and consult with other EU leaders.

“The Taoiseach said the proposals do not fully meet the agreed objectives of the backstop,” the statement said.

Mr Juncker has also expressed concern that the return of customs controls threatened the Good Friday Agreement guarantee to maintain an open border with the Republic.

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