May contacts Varadkar to discuss Brexit impasse

Phonecall lasting 40 minutes one of many she made to EU leaders ahead of summit

British prime minister Theresa May.  Photograph: Epa/Will Oliver

British prime minister Theresa May. Photograph: Epa/Will Oliver

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was one of a handful of European leaders contacted by UK prime minister Theresa May in recent days as the British government attempts to break an impasse in the Brexit talks ahead of an EU summit later this week.

Mr Varadkar and Ms May held a 40-minute telephone call on Monday on the preparation for this week’s European Council meeting in Brussels. They also discussed Northern Ireland and Hurricane Ophelia.

Ms May spoke to German chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday evening and French president Emmanuel Macron on Monday, and was due to hold a dinner with European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker in Brussels on Monday night.

A previous dinner between Ms May and Mr Juncker, held in Downing Street earlier this year, became embroiled in controversy after the contents of the discussions between the two leaders and their respective negotiators, David Davis and Michel Barnier, were leaked.

A statement from Mr Varadkar’s spokesman said the Taoiseach and Ms May “discussed Brexit, including the unique circumstances regarding the Northern Ireland border”.

“They looked forward to seeing each other in Brussels on Thursday and agreed to maintain close contact on all of the above issues,” the statement added.

While the British government had hoped the Brexit talks could move on to the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU after this week, Mr Varadkar has already said the European Council will likely agree with Mr Barnier’s assessment that insufficient progress has been made in key areas.

The EU has to judge if sufficient progress has been made on Irish-specific issues, the so-called “divorce settlement” and reciprocal rights for British and European citizens.

Another summit in December is now seen as the more likely timeline for the talks to move on to the future relationship between the EU and UK.

The Government believes the British position has not shifted since Ms May gave a speech in Florence last month in which she called for a transition period after Brexit in March 2019, but before the future relationship is settled.

There is also concern that increasing exasperation in Paris and Berlin, particularly around the financial settlement, could damage the Brexit talks.

A statement from Downing Street on the phonecall with Mr Varadkar said: “On the UK’s departure from the EU, they discussed the importance of maintaining constructive progress in the negotiations. Both agreed to continue discussions at EU council later this week and the Prime Minister reiterated the UK government’s commitment to protecting the Belfast Agreement and the Common Travel Area.”

Mr Varadkar and Ms May also spoke about the ongoing talks to restore the Northern Ireland Executive, as well as the threat to jobs at the Bombardier aircraft manufacturing plant in Belfast.