Even unionists will want Irish passport after Brexit, says Varadkar

Most people in North are likely to seek to remain European citizens ‘for the convenience’

Leo Varadkar  in Brussels, on Thursday: “A customs union is a little bit like a marriage, if you want to put it that way. And once you’re committed to a marriage, you’re committed to it,” he said. Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

Leo Varadkar in Brussels, on Thursday: “A customs union is a little bit like a marriage, if you want to put it that way. And once you’re committed to a marriage, you’re committed to it,” he said. Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

 

The majority of people in Northern Ireland are likely to want Irish passports after the UK leaves the European Union, the Taoiseach said Thursday, as he stressed to EU leaders the “unique situation” in the North.

Speaking after a meeting with Nordic and Baltic leaders and as he went into the European Council meeting in Brussels, Mr Varadkar said: “One point I made to them was that, and it does surprise some European leaders, was that after the UK leaves the EU that it’s very likely that the majority of people in Northern Ireland will be Irish and European citizens. Because even people from a unionist background will want to become Irish and European citizens at the very least for the convenience.”

Mr Varadkar said that “more and more EU leaders” were understanding the situation in Northern Ireland, which he described as “a territory that is going to be outside the European Union in which the majority of citizens are EU citizens, and the majority of which at least voted to stay in the EU”.

EU leaders are gathering in Brussels for a summit that will discuss a number of issues, including Brexit. They will hear from the British prime minister Theresa May later this evening, but have already decided that the EU-UK talks have not achieved sufficient progress to begin the next stage, which will cover the future relationship between the EU and the UK after Brexit.

Next phase

The British government has repeatedly pressed the EU to move on to the next phase, but EU leaders say there must be further British movement on the Irish Border, on citizens’ rights and on the financial settlement, under which the UK will have to pay a multibillion euro bill to cover its EU commitments.

Both sides say that there can be progress in the coming weeks ahead of a new December deadline, but Ms May is under increasing pressure from hard Brexiteers in the Conservative Party at home not to make any further concessions.

Lack of progress

The Taoiseach emphasised that there had not been enough progress in the talks so far and also said that it would not be sufficient for the British to restate their intention to avoid a hard Border in Ireland.

“I don’t think it’s enough to say that you don’t want certain outcomes – you have to really explain how you’re going to avoid them,” he said when asked about what is needed from the British government to achieve sufficient progress.

“There needs to be more detail. What we have had from the UK is some very positive sentiments, all the right language about the future relationship between the UK and EU . . . but we need a little bit more detail on it. Language isn’t enough. If the UK is leaving the EU, it is incumbent on them to put forward detailed proposals so we can ensure that things remain much the same.”

He said that if the British made further concessions, they “will be met with greater understanding I think from the European side”.

‘Square the circle’

However, he warned that it would be difficult to “square the circle” of the UK’s desire for a customs partnership with the EU with its desire to negotiate its own trade deals with the rest of the world.

“You know, a customs union is a little bit like a marriage, if you want to put it that way. And once you’re committed to a marriage, you’re committed to it,” Mr Varadkar said.

Mr Varadkar distanced himself from comments made yesterday by Ireland’s European Commissioner, Phil Hogan, who said that the UK was on the “cliff edge” of a hard Brexit.

“We’ve a way to go yet. Brexit doesn’t happen until April 2019, so we’re quite far back from the cliff edge at this stage. But it’s incumbent on all EU presidents and prime ministers to ensure that we don’t sleepwalk towards that cliff and we that substantial more progress is made over the next couple of months. But you know, we’re well away from the cliff.”