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Varadkar: Soldiers could be needed on Irish border under ‘no-deal’ Brexit | Politics News



Soldiers may be required to man the Irish border in the event of a “no-deal” Brexit, the Irish prime minister has warned.

Leo Varadkar said that at the moment the frontier between the Republic and Northern Ireland was “totally open”, but “if things go very wrong it will look like 20 years ago”.

When asked to detail what a hard border would look like, he told Bloomberg: “It would involve customs posts, it would involve people in uniform and it may involve the need, for example, for cameras, physical infrastructure, possibly a police presence or army presence to back it up.

“The problem with that in the context of Irish politics and history is that those things become targets, and we’ve already had a certain degree of violence in the last few weeks.”

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An Irish government spokesman said in a statement after the interview that Mr Varadkar was not referring to the Irish army.

An open border was one of the legacies of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which brought to an end the Troubles, decades of violence involving unionists and republicans over the future status of Northern Ireland.

Avoiding a return to a hard border has emerged as one of the key sticking points in the Brexit process, with Dublin and the European Union insisting on a backstop.

This insurance policy, which would see the UK as a whole remain in a customs union with the EU – and Northern Ireland follow further EU rules and regulations in order to keep the border frictionless – would come into effect if Britain and Brussels cannot agree a free trade deal.

Some Tory MPs – and those in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – have called for the backstop to be removed from the withdrawal agreement altogether.

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They oppose it because they fear it will weaken the constitutional integrity of the Union as Northern Ireland would be treated differently to the rest of the UK.

They have also expressed fears Britain could end up being trapped in the arrangement indefinitely.

Up until this week, Dublin and the EU have maintained they would never impose a hard border because of the Good Friday Agreement.

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a news briefing in Brussels on Tuesday: “If you would 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.

“And 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.”

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The comments prompted Ireland’s deputy prime minister Simon Coveney to repeat Dublin’s position that it is not planning for a hard border, even with the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

However, Mr Coveney did admit it would be “very, very difficult” to prevent one without a UK withdrawal agreement.

“We’re the ones already giving,” Mr Varadkar said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“The UK wanted a review clause in the backstop and we agreed to that, the UK wanted a UK-wide element, so why is it the country that is being victimised is the one that’s always asked to give?”

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The Irish PM said he had not seen any technological solutions that could ensure no hard border, saying “they don’t exist and nobody has been able to show them to me”.

Mr Varadkar, who said the EU and Ireland were willing to “help” break the impasse, said it was “very unlikely” that Brexit would not happen in some form

“We could work with a Norway-plus model. We could work with a Canada-model with special arrangements for Northern Ireland,” he said.

Democratic Unionist Party MP Gregory Campbell criticised Mr Varadkar’s border remarks, calling on him to “dial down the rhetoric”.

“This is deeply unhelpful talk,” he said.

“Mr Varadkar knows full well the connotations of such statements and he knows it’s nonsense.”

Seeking to clarify Mr Varadkar’s remarks, the Irish government spokesman said: “The Taoiseach [Irish PM] made it clear in the interview that the government is determined to avoid a no-deal scenario and the consequent risk of a hard border.

“He was asked to describe a hard border, and gave a description of what it used to look like, and the risk of what it could look like in the worst-case scenario.

“He was not referring to Irish personnel and the Irish government has no plans to deploy infrastructure or personnel at the border.”

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