Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney and Transport Minister Shane Ross have been caught making revealing comments about their border customs plans in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
In a private conversation caught on tape, Mr Coveney indicated that Irish ministers should not talk about the plans publicly for fear of a backlash.
An independent member of the Irish Parliament, Mr Ross had been asked by the Irish Independent, on Tuesday, about a situation where a lorry carrying food produce from Scotland arrived at the Irish border.
He replied: “I would anticipate that there would be checks.”
Dublin has so far insisted the border will not be hardened in any circumstances.
Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney intervened to correct Mr Ross: “Well no,” he said, adding that the border would be dealt with through the political divorce deal.
...all of a sudden we’ll be the government that reintroduced a physical border on the island of Ireland.Simon Coveney, Irish Deputy Prime Minister
Mr Coveney said that the Government had “deliberately not” gone into contingency plans because the UK had not voted on the Brexit deal at that point.
“If Britain leaves without a deal well, then we obviously have to difficult discussions with the European Commission and with the UK in terms of how we protect the EU single market,” he said.
However, talking privately at the end of the press briefing, but without realising the microphone was still on, Mr Ross queried why Mr Coveney had corrected him:
Shane Ross: “Yeah. The border one, should I not have said that?”
Simon Coveney: “Yes, but we can’t get into where they’ll be at this stage. They could be in the sea, they could be... 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: “Yeah, but I didn’t know what to say.”
Asked by the BBC if Mr Ross had “let the cat out of the bag”, Fianna Fail Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers said Mr Ross was an independent TD who was outside the main parties and was “prone to gaffes”.
Good Morning Ulster also asked her if the EU will now press the Republic to put physical checks on the border to protect the single market.
Ms Chambers sidestepped the question and replied that if the UK reverts to World Trade Organisation Rules “they will equally be under pressure to apply border checks” but added that aside from the Irish backstop “I don’t have an answer for you”.
East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson responded that it is “little wonder Simon Coveney might fear a no-deal backlash, because they will have been a primary architect of such an outcome arising,” he said.
This could be avoided if Dublin accepts minimum friction technological border checks and political agreement, the DUP MP added.
TUV leader Jim Allister said Mr Coveney’s comments “reveal the truth that the threat of border posts comes not from the UK but from the EU forcing Dublin to do so”.
He added: “If Dublin wants to avoid that then it is incumbent on them to press Brussels for Special Status for the Republic, which will allow it to keep the border open and protect its trading relationship with its most important partner - the UK”.
The Irish premier later faced accusations that his party is not telling the public the full truth about the impact of a no-deal Brexit.
Leo Varadkar was taking questions from opposition leader Micheal Martin after the tape recording emerged.
The Fianna Fail leader called for the government to be honest with the public about the potential consequences of the UK crashing out of the EU.
During leaders’ questions, Mr Martin said: “Yesterday’s exchange between the tanaiste and the minister for transport are deeply worrying because it suggests the public are not being told the full truth for party political reasons.”
Mr Martin told the Irish parliament it appears there is a “private understanding and knowledge” within government about a border in the aftermath of no-deal Brexit, but “at all costs that private understanding not be shared with the public”.
Mr Varadkar denied his government was planning for border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and for checks in the sea.
He said: “I can’t imagine how you would carry out checks in the middle of the sea, I think they can only be done at ports and airports.
“I think his (tanaiste) only genuine concern is that if you use the wrong words or say things in the wrong way, people will misinterpret that as if you have some sort of secret plan to impose a hard border.
“We have no such secret plan.”
Fianna Fail Brexit spokeswoman Lisa Chambers said she had been assured by the government there has been no planning for a hard border.
“I have to take government at their word on that,” she said.