Taoiseach and Tánaiste say they were told the deal was done…and then it wasn’t
Ireland’s Europe Minister Helen McEntee, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD and Tánaiste and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney in Dublin on Monday evening reacting to the news that the deal they’d been assured was agreed on the Border after Brexit – ‘regulatory alignment’ across the island of Ireland – now isn’t.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was “surprised and disappointed” that Prime Minister Theresa May’s government was unable to conclude the deal he believed had been agreed on the Irish Border after Brexit.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, following a meeting with Mrs May, told reporters that despite their hopes and expectations there would be a deal enabling the EU to move into stage two of Brexit negotiations and trade negotiations it had not been possible. But he sounded an optimistic note as he said the gaps between the UK and Ireland and the EU had been narrowed.
Mr Juncker said Mrs May had been a tough negotiator who defended the UK’s interest and “despite best efforts it was not possible to reach a complete agreement today”.
“We stand ready to resume the negotiations. I have to say we are narrowing our positions. “I’m still confident that we can reach sufficient progress before the European Council on 15th of December.” Mrs May said it had been clear “that we want to move forward together”.
“We will reconvene before the end of the week. We will conclude this positively,” she said.
A somewhat different tone was struck by Mr Varadkar who said Mrs May pulled out of the deal at the last moment after DUP outrage and anger. The DUP, which keeps Mrs May’s minority government in power, expressed fury at the reports that London and Dublin had agreed there should be “regulatory alignment” or “regulatory convergence” between Northern Ireland and the Republic after Brexit, removing the need for any return to a hard Border.
Party leader Arlene Foster and her Westminster MPs said they would much prefer if Northern Ireland was subject to World Trade Organisation tariffs than be treated differently to the UK.
“Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the UK.
“We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom.”
If one part of UK can retain regulatory alignment with EU and effectively stay in the single market (which is the right solution for Northern Ireland) there is surely no good practical reason why others can’t.
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) December 4, 2017
Huge ramifications for London if Theresa May has conceded that it's possible for part of the UK to remain within the single market & customs union after Brexit. Londoners overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU and a similar deal here could protect tens of thousands of jobs.
— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) December 4, 2017
This UK Government’s bitter betrayal of 17.4 million people today is a concession too far, for it will lead to endless problems in Scotland and it damages the integrity of the United Kingdom.
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) December 4, 2017
In Dublin, Mr Varadkar said he had sought a written guarantee that there would be no hard Border on the island of Ireland which “has been to the absolute forefront of Ireland’s concerns”.
“We don’t want an Irish Sea border any more than we want one between Newry and Dublin,” he said.
He said Mr Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk had confirmed to him that agreement had been reached on the text.
He said he believed that the British Prime Minister had been acting at all times in good faith and refused to pin blame on DUP leader Arlene Foster: “I don’t think pointing fingers would allow us to get where we want to get in this.”
“I acknowledge that Theresa May is negotiating in good faith. My position is unequivocal. Ireland wants to proceed to phase two. We cannot agree unless there are firm guarantees on the lack of a hard Border in any circumstances. I still hope this matter can be concluded in the coming days.”
“That’s always been our approach in this. The motivation of the Irish Government is to try to maintain the status quo in Ireland, allowing people to continue with their normal lives, cross the Border as they do now. We don’t wont to pick a row with anyone, there’s no hidden agenda here.”
“We engaged in negotiations in good faith with EU and UK. We agreed a text this morning, we believe it stands, but we believe the prime minister needs more time.”
He refused to be drawn on what DUP leader Arlene Foster’s role was in the issue. Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said: “Negotiating teams have been in place for weeks now, the issues were also raised in Westminster, it’s through that negotiating structure that we have worked up a draft that we were able to conclude this morning, agreed with the president of the Commission and Council.”
The Tánaiste insisted that earlier in the day the “deal was done”.
“The Taoiseach and I are at one on this. We had a deal today in relation to a wording that in our view would provide reassurance over a hard Border in Ireland. We don’t want that.
“We need a credible way in which he could ensure that could be avoided.
“We want to ensure that wording remains intact. If we are going to move on to phase two we need to ensure there will be no hard Border in Ireland.”
“We have language now that gives us the safeguards we need and reassurance that a hard Border will not reemerge,” he said.
He said the Irish Government is “in a much better place than we have been at any point in the Brexit negotiations”.
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