Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister has admitted a no-deal Brexit will lead to a hard border with the North – but they can’t admit it to voters because it would cause a backlash, a secret recording revealed today.
Simon Coveney forgot his microphone was still on as he spoke to Transport Minister Shane Ross while Theresa May suffered her humbling Commons defeat last night.
He was heard confirming the need for border checks if Britain crashes out of the EU – most likely in the Irish Sea – and said: ‘But we can’t get into where they’ll be’.
He added: ‘People will start delving into that and all of a sudden we’ll be the government that reintroduced a physical border on the island of Ireland’.
His admission is in stark contrast with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s vow not to erect a hard border on the island under any circumstances.
The UK government has always described a hard border as having any kind of physical infrastructure on land or sea between the UK and Ireland, including electronic checks.
Irish Tanaiste Simon Coveney admitted to Transport Minister Shane Ross that a no deal Brexit will lead to a ‘physical border’ with the North but said they can’t admit it
Theresa May was humbled in the Commons and looked dejected as the scale of her defeat by 230 votes was reveale
The Irish ministers’ gaffe came as they appeared at a press conference in Dublin where Mr Ross admitted that he ‘anticipated’ there would be checks on goods moving between the UK and Ireland in the event of no deal.
In a private conversation afterwards Mr Ross asked Mr Coveney: ‘[On] the border one, should I not have said that?’
Tory backbench ringleader Jacob Rees-Mogg (left), Arlene Foster (centre) and the DUP, and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (right) have all vowed to support the government in Wednesday night’s confidence vote
His more senior colleague replied: ‘Yes, but we can’t get into where they’ll be at this stage. They could be in the sea. But once you start talking about checks anywhere near the border, people will start delving into that and all of a sudden we’ll be the government that reintroduced a physical border on the island of Ireland’.
Shane Ross then said: ‘Yeah but I didn’t know what to say’, according to the Irish Independent, who said Mr Coveney told them: ‘We are not planning to put checks on the Border’.
The recorded conversation will cause a furore in Ireland and will give hope to Britain that Ireland may be willing to help convince EU leaders to avoid border checks.
But publicly the Dublin government has said the negotiations are over.
It came as Arlene Foster criticised Theresa May for not asking Brussels to remove the Northern Irish backstop as she condemned the Brexit deal.
The Democratic Unionist Party leader said Simon Coveney had confirmed to her that the Prime Minister had not made the request.
Mrs Foster was speaking at a Brexiteer event in London which was also attended by former Brexit secretaries Dominic Raab and David Davis.
They all insisted that Mrs May should not step down if she loses the vote, and should go back to Brussels to renegotiate.
Remainers celebrate on Parliament Square as Britain appeared to edge closer to a softer Brexit or no Brexit at all
Mrs Foster told the audience she had deja vu having come to London to argue against the Withdrawal Agreement before the Meaningful Vote was pulled in December.
She added that the backstop did ‘violence’ to the union, and criticised comments that Northern Ireland was the price of Brexit.
‘We said to the Prime Minister she had to get rid of the backstop and get a Withdrawal Agreement that can be lived with,’ she said. ‘I don’t think she even asked to get rid of the backstop.’
She later branded the Irish border backstop ‘toxic’ and said her party’s 10 MPs would vote against the Withdrawal Agreement.
She said there was no need for the backstop as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar vowed not to erect a hard border on the island of Ireland.
‘As someone who lived through the Troubles,’ the DUP leader said, ‘we never had a hard border.
‘There were 20,000 soldiers in Northern Ireland and they could not hermetically seal the border in Northern Ireland. So it is a bit of a nonsense to talk about a hard border.’
Mrs Foster said on Twitter: ‘Tonight will be historic but for the wrong reasons. We will oppose the toxic backstop & vote against the WA [withdrawal agreement].
‘It’s time for a sensible deal which governs our exit from the EU & supports all parts of the UK.’
She added: ‘The Irish prime minister has indicated that he will not be putting up a hard border on the island of Ireland.
‘The borders of the past were there for a completely different reason. They were there to stop terrorists, they were there to stop the flow of Semtex [explosives] as opposed to the flow of powdered milk.’
A spokesman for the Democratic Unionist Party said: ‘The Prime Minister has known for many weeks what we require.
‘Amendments tabled in Parliament will have no bearing on the legal status of what has been negotiated.
‘What is required is for the Prime Minister to go and secure legally-binding changes as she promised.’