Taoiseach offers ‘practical solutions’ on Brexit

Varadkar says after 14 months those in favour of hard Brexit have failed to offer proposals

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar puts forth solutions to issues regarding Brexit and the EU customs union. Video: Queen's University Belfast

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has sought to advance the political debate on Brexit in Northern Ireland after he proposed a number of “practical solutions” to the UK quitting the European Union.

Mr Varadkar caused some surprise in Belfast on Friday when he tabled new ideas on how the fallout from Britain exiting the EU could be softened “for all of us”.

He identified three possibilities: an EU-UK customs union similar to that between the EU and Turkey; the UK rejoining the European Free Trade Association whose members include Norway and Switzerland; and a possible transition period while Brexit problems were worked out.

Mr Varadkar complained that the “advocates of a hard Brexit” have had 14 months to come up with their own proposals but have failed to do so.

“If they cannot, and I believe they cannot, we can then talk meaningfully about solutions that might work for all of us,” he said in a keynote address at Queen’s University, Belfast, on his first visit to the North as Taoiseach.

Mr Varadkar warned the British government, however, that “these solutions will not be offered, they will have to be asked for”.

Of those pushing a hard Brexit, he added: “If they can’t come up with solutions, well then maybe they might talk about mine.”

Brexiteers

Mr Varadkar was speaking ahead of a meeting with DUP leader Arlene Foster and delegations from other Northern Ireland parties.

After his recent declaration that Dublin would not “design a Border for the Brexiteers”, there was concern the meeting with Ms Foster would be a fraught and possibly hostile engagement. However, the DUP leader said their discussions were “useful and forthright”.

The DUP in the past week had taken particular issue with some suggestions that the Government would advocate that a new border be established at British ports if the UK left the EU. The idea had been dismissed by the Government earlier this week, and Ms Foster said she had received categorical assurances on the matter.

“There have been some very unhelpful interventions from some of his party members, but the Taoiseach is very clear that he is not in favour of a border in the Irish Sea.”

This was earlier confirmed by Mr Varadkar when, during a question and answer session at Queen’s University, he said: “It’s not a proposal that I’m tabling, and I wouldn’t like us to be in that position.”

His argument was that he wanted the UK as a whole to stay in the Customs Union and the Single Market.

Confusion

Ms Foster said she wanted the UK out of the Single Market and Customs Union. She did not specifically say whether she believed Mr Varadkar’s proposals had merit, but said she too wanted “practical solutions”.

However, writing in The Irish Times, DUP chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has sharply criticises Mr Varadkar.

“Since Enda Kenny and Charlie Flanagan departed the scene, confusion seems to be the order of the day. The intemperate outburst by the Taoiseach at a press briefing expressing anger at the UK’s decision to leave the EU is just the latest in a series of inconsistent and incoherent messages from the Irish Government.”

The DUP MP said in the absence of a UK Brexit deal with the EU it was “clearly nonsensical” to spell out new Border arrangements.

“We have made clear many times that we want a soft Border, but I am afraid the Taoiseach and those who prematurely suggest that we should detail what this looks like in the absence of any legal or political context are going to have to wait a little longer.”