Taoiseach optimistic Brexit deal can be reached but says Ireland preparing for talks failure
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has challenged the British government to end the rhetoric on the Border post-Brexit and present a legal solution.
His remarks were followed by his Foreign Minister Simon Coveney’s insistence in Brussels that Ireland’s future cannot be held to ransom by the DUP’s deal to keep PM Theresa May in power.
Mr Varadkar, who spoke to several reporters and TV and radio station over the weekend, said that while he remains optimistic a deal will be reached Ireland and others should at least be prepared for the talks to fail and the UK to crash out with no deal on 29 March 2019. He said he was “not afraid” of a no-deal Brexit.
Speaking in Enniskillen on Sunday where he joined DUP leader Arlene Foster in laying a Remembrance Day wreath he said: “I think it is going to be possible to come to an agreement with the UK on an EU exit treaty but if it is the case that there can’t be a deal, that is something we need to be prepared for as well.
“As I said in my speech at the Fine Gael conference (last Saturday), four times in Irish history we went on a different path when we became independent, when we became a republic, when we floated our own currency, when we joined the euro and Britain did not.
“On each occasion we emerged more prosperous and stronger as a result. So I am not afraid of the possibility of there being no deal. But I am an optimist. I do think one is possible and will be achieved.”
European Union leaders will decide at next month’s EU Council summit in Brussels whether “sufficient progress” has been made on three key phase-one issues: citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and issues relating to Ireland.
“We want a free trade agreement between Britain and Ireland, one that will protect our jobs and economy, and we want a transition period of two years or more to allow people to adjust to changes. They are the phase-two issues and we can’t deal with them until we deal with phase one.”
He said good progress had been made on keeping a common travel area and on retaining the funding of peace initiatives in the North.
“The border is the difficult part. We want the words, rhetoric and assurances we have been given to be honoured.
“We’ve heard the language of the last 18 months: no return to a hard border, no return to the borders of the past and no physical infrastructure. We need to turn those sentiments now into a written- down legal solution.”
“I think the December deadline can be met, I think it is possible to move on to phase two of the talks. We want to do that but we can’t do that until we’ve sorted out the phase one issues that are particular to Ireland and if we can’t sort it out by December, so be it, we’ll go into the New Year,” he said on Irish radio.
The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier last week gave the UK a two-week deadline to provide greater clarity on the financial settlement it was prepared to offer.
Meanwhile Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney warned Britain against letting the DUP – on whom PM Theresa May depends for her parliamentary majority – dictate her options on Brexit.
Prime Minister Theresa May did a deal with the DUP’s ten MPs in June after she and her party failed to get an overall commons majority in her snap election. The party agreed to support her party in key votes such as the Budget and any confidence motion. Mr Coveney’s warning in Brussels came just a few days after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Ireland would not veto any deal ‘at this stage’ as it has the support of the rest of Europe.
In Brussels Mr Coveney said Ireland’s future should not be determined by Commons arithmetic.
“I don’t accept the options should be limited on the basis of the political arithmetic in the House of Commons.
“That is not how a decision as fundamental and as important to Ireland’s future and Britain’s future should be made.
“I don’t think that the solutions for the permanent new relationship between Britain and Ireland and Britain and the EU should be subject to one political party of any hue.”
“Lots of parties on the island of Ireland have a view here, and I think we need to try to take all of those views on board. “Of course we listen to the DUP, but we listen to other parties, too, in Northern Ireland, and we listen to all the parties in opposition and in government in Ireland, which is what we’re trying to do with the stakeholders consultations.”
Mr Coveney also said that if it was not possible for Britain to stay in the customs union and single market, then all sides would have to design a solution for the issues of the Irish border and co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
“That’s why we are asking for a rethink, and for more progress and clarity on this issue before December,” he said. “Britain and Ireland, working through the structures that involve the EU Task Force, have to find a way forward that not only Britain can live with but that Ireland can live with too.
“If Northern Ireland goes a different direction from a regulatory point of view, then you create unfair playing fields, which on the back of that there is going to have to be systems of checks and balances, and inspections to ensure standards.”
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