The European Union is unlikely to accept the UK's latest proposal for avoiding a “hard border” on the island of Ireland after Brexit, the Irish government has said. Theresa May has said 80% of firms would face no new customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and others would be simplified.
But Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said he was not sure it would adequately protect the EU's market. The proposal, he said, was a starting point for talks not a solution.
The British prime minister has ruled out the return of physical infrastructure on the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic after the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019, insisting that this commitment was absolutely clear.
But Dublin and Brussels remain to be convinced that this can be avoided after the UK leaves the EU's customs union, unless Northern Ireland continues to abide by its rules and those of the single market.
The backstop option agreed by the two sides in December is for Northern Ireland to remain fully aligned with the rules of the customs union - which eliminates tariffs between its members - and the single market, in areas of existing North-South co-operation.
This is unacceptable to the Democratic Unionist Party, which Theresa May relies on for votes in the House of Commons, and to many Conservatives MPs who say it would create a new border in the Irish Sea and amount to Northern Ireland being annexed.
But Mr-. Coveney told the BBC's Andrew Marr show this remained the default outcome unless both sides could agree other workable solutions to keep goods and people crossing over a largely invisible border.
Our responsibility is to work positively with Britain to explore solutions but if we can't agree solutions then what we have, of course, is the backstop which is a commitment by the British government to maintain full alignment with the rules of customs union and the single market, he said.
Asked about Theresa May's proposal, in a major speech on Friday, to waive customs checks for 80% of firms doing business across the border, he said it could not be taken for granted.
This is the mistake that is made in Britain all the time, he said. When someone definitively says something will be the case from the British government, people assume that is the negotiated outcome. Of course it is not.
I am not sure the EU will be able to support a situation whereby 80% of companies that trade north-south and south-north will actually protect the integrity of the EU single market, he said. While of course we will explore and look at all the proposed British solutions, they are essentially a starting point in negotiations not an end point.
Mr Coveney said Dublin wanted to avoid a hard border with Northern Ireland as much as London did. But he insisted that for a single market to function if goods move from one customs union to another there needs to be some checks” unless some mechanism was negotiated to prevent them.