Irish deputy PM dismisses Brexiteer customs plan amid Cabinet row

Posted On: 
13th May 2018

Ireland’s deputy prime minister has all-but rejected the customs proposal being pushed by pro-Brexit MPs in Theresa May's Cabinet.

Irish Tanaiste Simon Coveney appeared on the BBC Andrew Marr show today
Credit: 
BBC

Simon Coveney suggested the so-called ‘maximum facilitation’ proposal would force a hardening of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Boris Johnson and David Davis have spoken out in favour of the plan, which would rely on creating new customs technology to allow trade to flow freely between Britain and the EU after Brexit.

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It forms one side of a major clash between ministers, with the Prime Minister preferring a so-called 'customs partnership', which would see the UK collect tariffs on behalf of Brussels.

But Tanaiste Mr Coveney told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show Ireland was opposed to border infrastructure "of any kind" including "related checks or control".

"That means we're not talking about cameras and scanning systems and drones here" he said.

"We just simply think it won't work. If you don't believe me on it, listen to people who are living locally.

"Listen to the chief constable of the PSNI. He is saying any infrastructure on the border, any physical infrastructure on the border, is going to represent a risk to his officers. He's warning not to go down that route."

Mr Coveney suggested a “shared customs space” was the answer – echoing the customs partnership plan being pushed by the Prime Minister.

"It means were talking about a political solution that allows for regulatory alignment in a way that prevents the need for border infrastructure," he explained.

And he said he foresaw a “difficult summer” for negotiations if Mrs May is forced into accepting the ‘max fac’ option favoured by some in her Government.

Elsewhere, he took a swipe at Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who has called the customs partnership plan “crazy”, as he insisted he trusted Mrs May to respect the Good Friday Agreement

“We don’t take our lead from Boris Johnson in relation to Brexit, we take our lead from the Prime Minister,” Mr Coveney said.

“She has signed up to very clear commitments, she has written to Donald Tusk confirming those commitments and I believe her by the way.

“She made those commitments in good faith and I believe she wants to follow through on them.”

'POOR POLITICAL GAME'

However, pro-Brexit Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith hit out at Mr Coveney when he appeared later on the BBC’s Sunday Politics show. 

The former party leader said the Irish minister and the EU had “been playing a really rather poor political game over the Northern Ireland border”.

And he added: “He knows full well in private that what we are seeking to achieve is achievable with regards to Northern Ireland.”

Tory Cabinet minister and Brexit-backing MP Michael Gove meanwhile suggested Mr Coveney and the EU would fold to demands in the end.

He told the Andrew Marr show: “There have been occasions in the past when Ireland – having insisted on a particular proposition – then decided ‘actually do you know what? When push comes to shove we’ll show a bit of flexibility’.”

'ENORMOUS PROBLEMS'

Meanwhile, Former Conservative minister Nicky Morgan told ITV’s Peston on Sunday that the max-fac solution presented “enormous problems” on the Irish border and was a “way off”.

She said: "What’s called the maximum facilitation option, which seems to rely on future technology not yet invented is a deal in name only.

“Because it doesn’t talk about an enduring relationship with the EU, which I think is what the Prime Minister says she wants to create and it causes enormous problems on the island of Ireland."