Appetite for dysfunction: Varadkar and Foster meet for dinner

Brexit: Taoiseach and DUP leader reiterate opposing views as EU-British talks stall

DUP leader Arlene Foster visiting  St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin on Monday. ‘We are very clear about what we need for Brexit,’ she told reporters. Photograph: Tom Honan for The Irish Times.

DUP leader Arlene Foster visiting St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin on Monday. ‘We are very clear about what we need for Brexit,’ she told reporters. Photograph: Tom Honan for The Irish Times.

 

A no-deal Brexit would be “potentially catastrophic, really bad for Ireland, bad for the European Union and a disaster for the United Kingdom”, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

On Monday night, the Taoiseach met DUP leader Arlene Foster over dinner in Dublin to discuss their respective positions on Brexit and on North-South relations, in the aftermath of a weekend when negotiations between the EU and the British government broke down over the “backstop issue”.

In advance of the meeting, both leaders talked of a deal still being possible but reiterated opposite views on the arrangements for Northern Ireland being proposed.

Mr Varadkar repeated that the backstop issue was of fundamental importance to the Irish Government and one on which he was not prepared to compromise.

For her part, Ms Foster stated her “blood red line” position that any deal should not result in any “internal” border or division between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Mr Varadkar suggested that negotiations to finalise a withdrawal agreement on Brexit could slip on to December.

Speaking in Dublin on Monday afternoon, Mr Varadkar said he now figured that “November/December is the best time for a deal.”

Deadline

He said the deadline for a deal was initially October and that has now slipped to November.

“I don’t want to create the wrong impression that it is now December. That is not what I am saying.

“The possibility remains open that we will have an emergency summit in November if we can get a deal. If we don’t have a deal it will be the regular summit in December,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said negotiations were still at a sensitive stage.

We need to make sure that the whole of the United Kingdom leaves the European Union together

“We are always open to compromise, but there are some fundamentals that we can’t compromise on and that is really the need for the UK to honour the commitments it made last December, and that is we will have a withdrawal agreement, and that withdrawal agreement must include a legally operable, and legally binding, assurance that no matter what happens, there will be no hard border between the island of Ireland.”

He said he had spoken to British prime minster Theresa May over the weekend and she had reassured him of her commitment to honouring the backstop.

Speaking to reporters while visiting St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Ms Foster said: “We are very clear about what we need for Brexit. We need to make sure that the whole of the United Kingdom leaves the European Union together and there are no differences made between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.”

‘Sensible Brexit’

She said she did not want a no-deal scenario and very much hoped there would be a deal on what she described as a “sensible Brexit”.

She also met with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin on Monday. He suggested the Michel Barnier proposal of Northern Ireland staying in the customs union and single market, while remaining in a single market with Britain, made “perfect sense” and was “the best of both worlds”.

“If Northern Ireland, and some of their representatives could see it, especially their unionist representatives, there is the opportunity there,” he said.

Asked why the DUP was so resistant, he said: “Because the issue has become a constitutional issue, wrongly in my view. It has been elevated to the status of the union.”

But Ms Foster rejected this proposal.

“It’s not the best of both worlds and that’s where the problem is. I know it has been sold in that fashion.

“Of course it would create barriers between us and Great Britain.”