Taoiseach: Disorderly Brexit could see island of Ireland treated as one economic zone

By Juno McEnroe
Political Correspondent

A disorderly Brexit could see the entire island of Ireland treated as one economic zone for food and agriculture trade, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has signalled.

Checks on businesses and an increase in random inspections are also being looked at, he said.

The confirmation comes after the government admitted that Dublin and Brussels were in talks about checks and tariffs in Ireland if Britain crashes out of the EU. The concern is that substandard products or smuggled goods could come from the North and cross the EU frontier into Ireland, which would breach the bloc's trade protections.

The government has said these new checks and levies on goods would be a worst case scenario if there is no exit deal agreed with Britain by the October 31 deadline.

“The kind of things that we are looking at and we are proposing are the entire island of Ireland would be treated the same when it comes to agriculture and food. There would be a single epidemiological zone and any SPS checks [on animals and food] would happen on the ports.

"Your products and animals coming in from Britain to the island of Ireland," Mr Varadkar told Pat Kenny on Newstalk.

He also admitted that tariffs would apply in a no-deal scenario.

The other things are checks at business level and random checks and controls. And we will have to have those anyway because of smuggling. They exist already, but we would have to have a lot more of them.

"This isn't a good solution, this is vastly inferior to what we negotiated with Prime Minister May and it is vastly inferior to the Norway plus model.”

The Taoiseach and government are preparing to negotiate Ireland's position and Brexit with the new British prime minister, who will be decided upon later this month.

Mr Varadkar said it was “significant” that the UK's Labour party had now formally decided to back calls for a second Brexit referendum. He also said he would reserve judgement on the new prime minister until they meet. Nonetheless, Mr Varadkar warned that there would be a “reality check” for either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt when they are briefed by their civil servants about Brexit.

Suggestions that the difficult issue of the North and the border could be negotiated in the implementation phase of the Withdrawal Agreement are “incorrect”, insisted Mr Varadkar.

He warned that “perhaps” the sun was setting on the British empire, predicting that if the next prime minister crashed Britain out of the EU without an exit deal, the country would “fall into economic decline for many decades” and it would be overtaken by France as well as lots of countries in Asia.

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar has spoken with incoming European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. The two are believed to have discussed Brexit as well as the upcoming parliament. Mr Varadkar said he wanted Irish MEPs to back Ms von der Leyen's nomination for the top EU job.

He also confirmed that Ireland would be nominating Phil Hogan alone for commissioner, despite a suggestion by Ms von der Leyen that she would like member states to nominate both a man and a woman for roles. Mr Varadkar said he believed in "gender balance" but that Mr Hogan was the right choice for the job.