The British Prime Minister said today that he will be tabling proposals to the European Union shortly on alternatives to the backstop and dismissed the non-papers disclosed on RTÉ news last night as more or less redundant at this stage. The Taoiseach met the British Prime Minister twice recently, on 9 and 24 September, and has also had telephone contact with him. I met the Taoiseach and other party leaders on 15 September but at no stage was there any reference to these non-papers or their contents, particularly with regard to customs posts. In the Taoiseach's discussions with Mr. Johnson, were these non-papers referenced or discussed? What is their provenance? The Taoiseach stated to the British Irish Chamber of Commerce on 5 September that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, there would be checks on goods and live animals but that these would, in as far as possible, take place at ports, airports and business premises. He said that some checks may need to take place near the Border and that the Government was working out the details with the European Commission. On 17 September, the Tánaiste said that he did not expect checks to be near the Border. The Taoiseach had said that they would be near but I do not think the Tánaiste will do to the Taoiseach what he did to the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, in respect of the issue. Nonetheless, the checks would have to take place somewhere and that remains to be clarified.
We need to remind ourselves that the talks are on the terms of the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, with a full trade deal presumably to be negotiated between the two subsequently. The need for an insurance policy in the exit deal negotiations is key in order that there will be no reintroduction a hard border between the North and the South.
The key issue in the ongoing negotiations is whether Northern Ireland will remain within the EU customs union unless or until a full trade deal that removes the need for the insurance policy is negotiated. It comes down to customs, and the comments of Arlene Foster in that regard are somewhat unhelpful. It is easy to rule out things; it is much more difficult to create solutions and resolutions to complex issues. We always have to be careful about leaks, their timing and the motivation behind them. I did not believe we would see any serious British proposals until after the Conservative Party conference. We await those proposals. There has been much megaphone diplomacy and we need to be conscious of that. The Good Friday Agreement has been badly damaged by the collapse of the institutions and would be damaged further by regulatory divergence if that was to occur, and by the reintroduction of a customs infrastructure. These are serious and profound issues. Were the Taoiseach and Tánaiste aware of the existence of these non-papers prior to yesterday evening's disclosure? Did they discuss them with Boris Johnson during their meetings and communications with him? Will the Taoiseach confirm what is the Government's position on discussions with the European Commission regarding a no-deal Brexit, particularly in light of the various statements he and the Tánaiste have made in respect of checks, where they will take place and what they will involve?