Coveney: Difficult to avoid hard Irish border under no-deal Brexit

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By Michael McHugh and Michelle Devane, Press Association

The Irish Government has admitted it would be "very difficult" to avoid border infrastructure in Ireland under a no-deal Brexit.

Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney said his focus remained on the Withdrawal Agreement and the backstop insurance policy.

On Tuesday, a European Commission spokesman suggested Britain exiting the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement in March may lead to the imposition of a hard frontier between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Mr Coveney said: "In the absence of the backstop and a Withdrawal Agreement we have a very difficult job to do to prevent border infrastructure, but of course that would have to be our focus."

The Irish Government has insisted for months that while it will prepare for a hard Brexit with the UK at the ports and airports, it will not put in place infrastructure to check goods or people at the land border with Northern Ireland.

The backstop in the draft Withdrawal Agreement has been a central part of Dublin's plan to avoid checks on the Irish border.

Poland's foreign minister has suggested a time-limited backstop.

The Irish believe a time limit would mean it was not actually a backstop, designed to prevent a hard border if no better trade deal is hammered out between the UK and the EU.

Mr Coveney told reporters in Dublin: "As the debate on the backstop in Westminster continues this week I think the focus should be on this issue, to ensure that we do have a credible legal mechanism and a regulatory mechanism to prevent border infrastructure.

"That is called the backstop and many people seem to refer to the backstop as a political tool as opposed to a legal and regulatory mechanism to protect the important status quo on this island, which does not have any physical border infrastructure in the North.

"Our focus remains on that, that is the solution, that is how we prevent this issue becoming a real problem."

Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas was asked whether the EU's commitment to the Irish peace process would last whether or not there is a Brexit deal.

He replied: "If you like to push me and speculate on what might happen in a no-deal scenario in Ireland, I think it's pretty obvious, you will have a hard border.

"Our commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and everything that we have been doing for years with our tools, instruments and programmes will have to take inevitably into account this fact.

"So, of course, we are for peace, of course we stand behind the Good Friday Agreement, but that's what a no-deal scenario would entail."

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