Northern Ireland’s police chief has warned that a hard Brexit will have a “detrimental” impact on the peace process.
Simon Byrne painted a stark picture of a potential worst-case scenario of farms and agricultural businesses going bust, animals being culled and unrest within communities.
The chief constable’s warning came a day after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar predicted the UK was facing decades of economic decline following Brexit, as the nation struggled to cope with diminishing importance on the world stage.
Speaking on RTE Radio One’s Marian Finucane programme on Saturday morning, the Irish premier said: “Brexit has undermined the Good Friday Agreement and it is fraying relationships between Britain and Ireland.
“Anything that pulls the two communities apart in Northern Ireland undermines the Good Friday Agreement and anything that pulls Britain and Ireland apart undermines that relationship.”
Chief Constable Byrne, who assumed office at the start of the month, said he wanted answers from London as to how the PSNI was supposed to police around 300 border crossings in the face of the dissident republican threat that would escalate if there was a disorderly UK exit from the EU.
“I think we are worried that in the short term a hard Brexit will create a vacuum which becomes a rally call and recruiting ground for dissident republicans and clearly any rise in their popularity or their capability would be very serious,” he said.
Mr Byrne said his officers were having discussions with senior civil servants to “make plain” the PSNI’s concerns.
“We are and I am concerned about how the Brexit piece may or may not play out in weeks ahead,” he said.
“Firstly we are all in the same place that we don’t quite know where things will go and we have prepared as well as we can, both as a PSNI and with other organisations.
‘How do we police that?’
“But on specifics if we have a hard border the question I have for London, frankly, is how do we police that hard border?
“You’ll know how many crossings there are between the two countries, nearly 300 – and that’s the official ones. So I think it raises a whole raft of issues around the potential for smuggling.
“If we go into the worst-case scenario apart from the policing dimension my personal concern is for example understanding the effects on agriculture here, which so important. If tariffs change and drop we will see the prospect of animals being culled and people going out of business, that may lead to unrest and we having to protect other agencies as we go to support new arrangements.
“The minute we go into the border in that regard our worry is my officers and staff become a target for dissident republicans.”
During a press conference in Belfast, Mr Byrne was asked if a hard Brexit would have a detrimental impact on the peace process.
“Absolutely detrimental,” he replied.
“Because we know there is a small number of people – bearing in mind how many people live happily and peacefully here – but a small number of people intent on disruption and causing really serious harm.”
In an interview on Friday, Mr Varadkar told Newstalk radio that the UK would “fall into relative economic decline for many decades, probably be overtaken by France again. Slowly over time, it’ll be overtaken by lots of countries in Asia”.
He added: “I think that one of the difficulties for Britain is that they’re struggling to cope with the fact that as a country and an economy they’re not as important in the world as they used to be.”
It also warned that exports to the Republic of Ireland could fall by between 11% and 19%.
The report published by the Department for the Economy warned that if the United Kingdom was to leave the European Union without a deal, this would have a “profound and long-lasting impact on NI’s economy and society”.
The paper states that a no-deal Brexit could lead to a “sharp increase in unemployment, with at least 40,000 jobs at risk, based on EU export exposure”.
It also finds that scenario would have “immediate and severe consequences” for the region’s competitiveness both in the UK and in terms of the all-island economy.