The Taoiseach insists derailing Brexit is not his aim…but a workable solution to the NI border is
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this week visited Ireland’s Border and made a public pledge to Unionist politicians that the Irish government has no hidden agenda in trying to prevent a return to a hard Border after Brexit. But, he said, the British government will have to change its approach to negotiations on the Border – especially as the EU and Ireland were completely at one in what is required.
“The United Kingdom’s approach to the negotiations will need to change in some way,” said Mr Varadkar.
He told a major conference on Brexit, held in the Border town of Dundalk, County Louth – attended by the the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier – that Ireland’s only agenda is to protect the hard-won gains of the Good Friday Agreement. He acknowledged that opposing position on Brexit held by the DUP and Sinn Fein were in part responsible for the continuing Stormont deadlock and the inability of Northern Ireland’s two largest parties to agree on sharing power.
Sinn Fein insists that Brexit strengthens its calls for a referendum on Irish unity within the next five years.
Speaking at the All- Island Civic Forum on Brexit, a gathering of civic and business groups at the Dundalk Institute of Technology Mr Varadkar acknowledged unionists fear Brexit might be used to dilute Northern Ireland’s union with Britain.
“We have to acknowledge that the continued absence of functioning political institutions in Northern Ireland is, at least partly, a consequence of concerns about, and different positions on, Brexit.”
He insisted: “I want to repeat that WE have no hidden agenda.
“Our agenda is fully transparent – it is respect for the primacy of the Good Friday Agreement and everything it represents for the people of these islands.
“That includes the principle of consent, peaceful politics, democratic institutions, reconciliation and cooperation.”
Mr Varadkar said: “We don’t want things going backwards. I am determined to work with the British government, with the political parties in Northern Ireland, with the unionist and nationalist communities to chart a way ahead.
“We want to see all parts of the Agreement operating and I also want to see the great strides that we have made on North/South cooperation continue and grow in the years ahead.”
The EU’s Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier – on his third visit to Ireland’s Border region since the 2016 Referendum – said there is a real risk that the UK will crash out of the European Union without a proper deal.
“There is a real risk; we have to be prepared for all options including no deal. It is not my preference,” Mr Barnier told the All-Island Civic Forum on Brexit.
He told reporters covering the event that next month’s EU summit in Brussels will be a “stepping stone” to October’s deadline for an overall agreement on Brexit but said there was a need for substantial progress in the run-up to that June meeting.
“We need to agree rapidly by June the scope of alignment, what I call the safety controls that respect the single market,” he told reporters in Dundalk.
He made his remarks alongside Taoiseach Mr Varadkar and Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney, a former MEP. Mr Barnier said Britain had to present new, credible proposals to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. Unless Britain is able to go beyond the so-called backstop option to align Northern Ireland to EU single market rules there is a very real danger negotiations will collapse, he said.
“Until we reach this agreement and this operational solution for Northern Ireland, a backstop, and we are ready for any proposal… there is a risk, a real risk” he said.The French diplomat insisted the backstop “isn’t there to change the UK’s red lines; it’s there because of the UK’s red lines.”
“We want to succeed with the UK, not against the UK,” he said. “There is no spirit of revenge, there is no spirit of punishment.”
Tánaiste Mr Coveney told reporters before the forum: “The British government has red lines all over the place and expects the EU to accommodate them. We have red lines, so does the EU, but nobody seems to focus on that.
“It is not okay for the British government to rule out a whole series of options and then pretend that somebody, somewhere is going to find a solution to find a way forward. The next move is Britain’s in the negotiations.”