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Kevin Doyle and Colm Kelpie
August 17 2017 2:30 AM
Ireland is preparing for a "worst-case scenario" amid fears that some of the UK's proposals for cross-border trade are "totally unworkable".
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has raised concerns that measures being put forward by British Prime Minister Theresa May will lead to an increase in smuggling.
The minister welcomed the publication of a UK policy paper on Anglo-Irish relations and customs arrangements but warned it leaves "significant questions" unanswered.
"Actually delivering on the aspiration in these papers would be difficult," he said.
If the UK cannot agree a trade deal with the 27 remaining member states, it will result in a so-called 'hard Brexit' involving significant tariffs on exports and imports.
Mr Coveney also warned his UK counterparts that Ireland will not allow itself to become "a pawn" in the Brexit battle with the EU.
Ireland will be "realistic and fair" and the Government will "also be stubborn when it comes to defending Irish interests", he said.
In the 28-page position paper focusing on Northern Ireland and the Republic, the UK government said measures could be put in place to mitigate customs procedures for cross-border businesses and an agreement could be secured to avoid the need for border checks on agri-food products between North and south.
It also said that the UK and EU should agree a text that recognises the "ongoing status" of the common travel area (CTA) post-Brexit.
A UK government source said that while London does not want a technological border between Northern Ireland and the Republic to deal with goods, one however may be employed in the future depending on what is agreed.
"It's not a priority for us to establish a border and then find ways of circumventing it," a UK government source said.
"We want to avoid a border entirely. Technological fixes might come in the future once we've decided which option we're going to use and how we produce it, but that's the spirit in which we're engaging on this."
Writing in today's Irish Independent, Mr Coveney said technology as the answer "misunderstands the problem".
"Technology alone would not solve all practical problems, and cannot gloss over political realities.
"It can, of course, be part of how we implement the operational aspects of any new trading regime between the EU and UK, but that will be part of the detail that follows after we settle on a political way forward," he said.
The British said the plans for a new customs partnership with the EU - in which the UK would be free to negotiate trade deals with the rest of the world while maintaining free trade with the EU - would avoid the need for any Border.
Alternatively, "highly streamlined" arrangements would have to be put in place reflecting the "unique circumstances of Northern Ireland".
These would ensure no new customs processes for smaller firms, and new trusted trade arrangements for larger firms.
It is also proposing regulatory equivalence on agri-food measures, where the UK and EU agree to achieve the same outcome and standards. The single electricity market should be maintained.
However, Mr Coveney warned that there is "a caveat" within the proposal that would restrict goods passing through the UK from being exported outside the EU.
"That is totally unworkable. There are all sorts of problems with that which we understand very well on the island of Ireland in terms of smuggling. Certainly, from an agri-food point of view, I just don't see how that would work," he said.
The UK paper also says that Irish citizens in Northern Ireland also being EU citizens should continue post-Brexit, as should European peace funding to the Border counties until the current round expires in 2020. Then the Northern Ireland Executive and Irish Government should explore a potential future funding programme post 2020, it added. The British government will consider continuing peace funding post-Brexit.