North should be allowed stay in single market, Varadkar says

Minister’s comments on potential border outcome unwise, Mary Lou McDonald says

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar: signalled his support for seeking special status for the North. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar: signalled his support for seeking special status for the North. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar has argued Northern Ireland should be allowed to remain in the single market and the customs union following Brexit.

Speaking at a Fine Gael meeting in Co Donegal this weekend, the Minister signalled his support for seeking special status for the North.

Mr Varadkar also insisted any custom checks post-Brexit must take place in airports and ports and argued against any physical land border being enforced between the North and Republic of Ireland.

He told the closed meeting of 120 party members: “There should be no economic border at all between the North and South.

“We should advocate that the North should stay in the customs union and the single market and that any customs checks should be in the ports and airports, not on land borders.

“Most people in the North voted to remain, as did most of the MLAs elected to the new Assembly.”

Hard border

Ireland is facing the potential return of a hard Border between the North and the Republic in the aftermath of a British exit from the European Union.

The United Kingdom and the EU have insisted they do not support the imposition of a border but Government officials fear one may be inevitable.

Mr Varadkar said the Government should focus on investing in new infrastructure to combat Brexit.

He cited the need to advance the A5 to connect Donegal to the Republic and improving accessibility to the ports including Rosslare.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar confirmed the comments and said any progress would have to be agreed on the basis of community consent.

Sinn Féin’s deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, said Mr Varadkar’s comments on what a border may look like were unwise.

Ms McDonald, who is travelling to Strasbourg this week with Sinn Féin MLA Michelle O’Neill to argue for special status for the North, insisted it was the role of politicians to ensure one was not enforced, not imagine the shape of one.

The party’s deputy leader said the consequences of Brexit had yet to be fully realised.

She added: “For Ireland, Brexit is a constitutional earthquake and it has the potential to wreck the Good Friday agreement.

“It astonishing that the British government is gambling with the peace process and all of the progress that has been so hard won.

“It is hard to fathom Theresa May’s cavalier attitude. It is not acceptable.”