Leo Varadkar revealed yesterday that his government has made “no preparations whatsoever” to build new infrastructure despite the looming prospect of a no-deal Brexit. After Ireland published details of its contingency planning for a hard exit, the Irish Taoiseach said: “We are not preparing for a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. “We certainly do not want it to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
But leading Brexiteer Mr Rees-Mogg said that if Ireland had no intention of setting up customs checkpoints along the politically-sensitive frontier, there is no need for the contentious Irish backstop element of Theresa May’s deal.
He tweeted: “No deal means no hard border so no need for the backstop.”
The Irish backstop arrangement is one of the most contentious aspects of the Prime Minister’s deal, with hardline Brexiteers concerned it could effectively be used to trap Britain in a customs union with the EU.
Pro-Leave MPs as well as Mrs May’s Northern Irish unionist allies repeatedly urged her to “bin the backstop” during talks with Brussels – and removing it from the Withdrawal Agreement could secure her the vital votes needed to get it through the Commons.
But EU leaders have previously warned there can be no exit deal without a safety net to prevent the re-emergence of a hard border.
Dublin has acknowledged that Britain crashing out with no transition arrangement would not immediately require customs checks because Ireland and the UK would still be aligned with EU rules.
But Mr Varadkar warned problems would arise if the UK wanted to diverge from Brussels’ rules.
He said: “If the UK crashed out of the European Union at the end of March they would still be aligned on customs and regulations.
“So the problem would only arise if they decided in some way to change their customs and regulations – and that’s where it could get difficult.
“But that is something obviously we are going to have to talk to them about in a no-deal scenario.
“There is a real understanding across the EU that this isn’t a typical border, that this is a border that goes through villages, goes through farms, goes through businesses and of course is a border that people fought and killed other people over.”
Both Britain and the EU have committed to avoiding a hard border on Ireland but the backstop terms, loathed by hardline Brexiteers, could ultimately end up causing precisely the situation they were designed to prevent.
If Mrs May’s deal is voted down by MPs as expected, the UK will leave the bloc with no deal on March 29, 2019 unless an alternative way forward is put forward.
The Prime Minister is desperately attempting to secure additional assurances from EU leaders over the temporary nature of the backstop ahead of a Commons vote now scheduled for mid-January.