Leo Varadkar signals expectation of Brexit breakthrough
Brussels believes December summit may decide trade talks phase can begin
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has indicated he expects a breakthrough in the negotiations between the EU and the UK in the coming weeks, enabling EU leaders to give the go-ahead for the next phase of talks on future trading relationships to begin after Christmas.
Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Mr Varadkar said he was “more optimistic than I was in the weeks before the October summit” when EU leaders decided that sufficient progress had not been made to allow the talks to move to trade issues, as the UK wanted.
However, he acknowledged: “That may change.”
Sources familiar with the Taoiseach’s thinking said he was being optimistic in his assessment. But they added Mr Varadkar believes that to make progress in the talks, the two sides need to start talking about the transition period after the UK leaves in 2019, during which it is likely to remain part of the customs union and the single market.
Officials in Brussels sounded a more cautiously optimistic note about the potential for a breakthrough. Brussels believes the December summit of EU leaders can judge “sufficient progress” has been made to enable the trade phase of the talks to begin – but only if the UK signals a concession on the Brexit bill it is prepared to pay.
EU officials say this movement will have to be signalled in the next three weeks if the summit is to see a breakthrough.
The continuing political uncertainty in London makes a concession on the question of money unpredictable, sources say. However, it is understood the Irish position is that a transition period during which the UK continued to pay EU contributions could enable the difficulty over the UK’s Brexit settlement to be overcome.
People ask me all the time what is going to happen. I don’t know what is going to happen
The next round of Brexit negotiations begins on Thursday in Brussels. Though an agenda had not been finalised on Wednesday night, it is understood that officials will spend the day meeting in technical working groups before assembling with their respective leaders, Michael Barnier and David Davis, in a plenary session. Irish issues will be discussed in the usual co-ordinators’ meeting on Thursday.
The two delegation leaders will host a press conference on Friday, which will be watched closely for signs of progress.
Mr Varadkar was responding to Dáil questions on Brexit from Labour TD Joan Burton. It is the first time the Government has indicated its own view, outside the other 27 members of the EU negotiating with Britain, that Brexit talks could move to the next phase.
“People ask me all the time what is going to happen,” Mr Varadkar said. “I don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t think anyone does, quite frankly. Deputy Burton referenced the ongoing confusion in London at the moment. This is a rapidly changing situation.”
“When we were at this point back in September/October, I indicated that I didn’t think it was likely that we could say that sufficient progress has been made.
“I am now of the view that I think it is likely that we will be able to say that sufficient progress has been made at the December meeting, allowing us to move on to discussions on transition and the future arrangements, but that is just my prediction at this stage,” Mr Varadkar said.
“This of course will all depend on what happens over the next number of weeks, what specific assurance and guarantees we can get in writing from the United Kingdom. ”
“It is not going to be possible to fully resolve the Border question until we start to talk about the future relationship that the UK will have with the European Union. There will come a point when it is in our interests to actually start talking about that.”