Ireland’s Foreign Affairs minister has said a no-deal Brexit would become an exercise in damage limitation for the country.
Simon Coveney also said the Irish Government would be intensifying its contingency preparations for a no-deal outcome.
Mr Coveney made the remarks in the Dail on Thursday during statements on Brexit preparedness.
“Managing a no-deal Brexit would be an exercise in damage limitation,” he said.
“It would be impossible in a no-deal scenario to maintain the current seamless arrangements between the EU and UK across a full range of sectors, which is currently facilitated by our common EU membership.”
Mr Coveney said the EU would continue to seek to be as helpful as possible but the Withdrawal Agreement was not open for renegotiation.
“The backstop is an essential part of the Withdrawal Agreement,” he told the Dail.
“It acts as an insurance policy, to ensure that there is no hard border on this island following Brexit. It is essential.”
Mr Coveney said if the UK chose to shift its red lines on leaving the customs union and the single market, and opt for a more ambitious relationship “beyond a basic free trade agreement, the EU would be happy to evolve its position”.
He said the Irish Government remained focused on securing an “orderly and agreed Brexit” but, given the uncertainty in London and the increased risks of the UK crashing out of the EU, Dublin would continue to intensify its contingency preparations.
He added that Ireland’s number one protection from Brexit was the country’s membership of the EU and reiterated that no future relationship between the EU and UK would be as good as the status quo.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald told the Dail that in a no-deal scenario there would be a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Ms McDonald said: “In the absence of a backstop – if there is a crash – there will be a hard border, and of course there will be checks.”
She accused Mr Coveney and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of evading the issue “time and again”.
Ms McDonald said: “I appreciate you don’t want to be seen as a government that even countenances a hard border on this island but that’s what will happen because that’s what the EU’s rulebook dictates.
“So isn’t it now time to say out loud, in the absence of a deal there will be a hard border, and to reassert that is unacceptable and unconscionable for everybody here in the Oireachtas and for the Irish people?”
She added that the backstop remained the only guarantee there would be no hard border on the island.
“That backstop must be defended and it cannot be watered down under any circumstances,” she said.
Ms McDonald said the threat posed by Brexit had intensified since the UK Parliament voted against the Withdrawal Agreement, and criticised DUP leader Arlene Foster.
“The level of delusion amongst ardent Brexiteers is perhaps best summed up in the commentary of the DUP leader earlier this week, who enlightened us all that, in fact, there was no hard border on the island of Ireland, that it was a figment of our collective imagination.
“This is, of course, blatantly untrue and illustrated clearly that Brexiteers are not in the realm of reality.”
In a no-deal situation, Ms McDonald said, the only “sensible” response was for a referendum to be called to give the people in Northern Ireland the right to vote on Irish unity.
Mr Coveney said: “This assumption, that if there’s a no-deal Brexit because we have an obligation to protect the EU single market and customs union, which we do, we’ll somehow be forced by default to reintroduce border infrastructure, I don’t accept that premise because when it comes to the border we have competing responsibilities towards the peace process, towards peaceful relationships, towards an all-island economy.”
He said that was understood in London and in Brussels.
He also rejected the argument that there would be no hard border because no one wants one as “bogus”.
Fianna Fail’s Lisa Chambers said it was not up to Ireland “to bend and weave” just because politicians in the UK cannot make up their minds.
The party’s Brexit spokeswoman said: “The chaos in Westminster provides a stark contrast to the political stability and united front we’ve displayed here in Ireland.”
She added: “The UK government now needs to get its act together for all of our sakes.”