FG ministers ‘shocked’ by Ross’s gaffe over Border

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FG ministers ‘shocked’ by Ross’s gaffe over Border

Taoiseach admits checks will be hard to avoid in no-deal scenario


Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Transport Minister Shane Ross has been described as “an embarrassment” by Fine Gael colleagues who are fuming over his limited grasp of the Brexit crisis.

Cabinet members were unsparing in the commentary about the Independent Alliance TD after he appeared to suggest Border checks are inevitable if the Brexit deal collapses.

The breach of the long-running Government policy not to engage on questions about what will happen at the Border in a no-deal scenario has angered colleagues from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar down.

The Irish Independent revealed yesterday how Tánaiste Simon Coveney had to warn Mr Ross not to discuss the possibility of Border checks in public for fear “that all of a sudden we’ll be the Government that reintroduced a physical border on the island of Ireland”.

Details of the private conversation, caught on tape after a press briefing, were widely reported by UK and international media.

And in the Dáil, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the exchange was “deeply worrying because it suggests the public are not being told the full truth for party political reasons”.

“This obviously was a conversation that was never meant to be public; the microphones were still on. However, it seems there is a private understanding and knowledge within Government about a Border in the aftermath of a no-deal Brexit but at all costs that private understanding must not be shared with the public,” Mr Martin said.

“It is like the episode from ‘Fawlty Towers’, ‘Whatever you do, don’t mention the war’, but somebody forgot to tell the minister, Deputy Ross.”

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald said the Taoiseach had “skated” around the issue of what happens without the backstop.

“Is it not now time to say out loud that in the absence of a deal, there will be a hard Border and to reassert that this is an unacceptable, indeed, an unconscionable situation for us?” she asked.

Mr Varadkar subsequently conceded that without a deal “obviously we have a big problem” but insisted there are still no contingency plans for a hard Border.

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He added: “To maintain the absence of a hard Border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, we have to have an agreement on customs and regulation.”

The Taoiseach sought to defend Mr Coveney’s comment, explaining that his “only concern” in answering questions on Border checks “is that if one uses the wrong words or says things in the wrong way, people will misinterpret that as though one has some sort of secret plan to impose a hard Border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We have no such secret plan”.

Privately, Fine Gael ministers blamed Mr Ross for not being on top of his brief.

One Cabinet member said they were “shell-shocked” at his performance, which was “embarrassing”.

A second Fine Gael minister said the Tánaiste had always made it clear that they were to be ultra-cautious when faced with Border questions.

“If you mention checks, you play right into the hands of the Brexiteers,” the minister said.

Another party figure noted that appearing competent throughout the Brexit negotiations was key to Ireland’s success to date, adding that Mr Ross undermined that.

Despite the anger, there is no question of Mr Varadkar taking any action against Mr Ross due to the Independent Alliance’s central role in the minority Government.

The Taoiseach and Mr Coveney had a scheduled private meeting with the four Alliance ministers on Tuesday night where the atmosphere was described as positive.

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar also dismissed claims by DUP leader Arlene Foster that there was never a hard Border.

“I remember it well,” he said, adding: “There were customs checks.

“I remember the 24-hour rule and I remember seeing soldiers and I never want to see any of those things ever again.”

Irish Independent


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