Brexit: Republic ‘not alone’ – but backed by Europe
Jean-Claude Juncker assures Varadkar State is priority in Brexit talks
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar received reassurances from European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker that Irish issues will not be left until the end of talks on the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.
Mr Varadkar was told by Mr Juncker during a meeting in Dublin on Thursday that matters relating to Ireland, such as the future of the Border, would not be left until last-minute talks on Brexit are held in October.
He told the Taoiseach privately that Ireland would not be left isolated – a point he later reinforced publicly.
The meeting came as the timetable for dealing with issues such as the Border “backstop” – which prevents a hard Border even if Britain and the EU fail to reach a deal – has slipped in recent weeks.
The Government had initially insisted that sufficient progress needed to be made on the issue before next week’s European Council summit, but now accepts that an agreement will not be reached until October.
Mr Varadkar said it was “abundantly clear” the backstop must be in place for there to be a withdrawal agreement between the EU and Britain and a transition period from when Britain leaves the bloc in March.
“The withdrawal agreement must include a legally binding backstop so that there cannot be a hard border on the island of Ireland in the future, whatever circumstances may prevail,” he said.
Reflecting his assurances to Mr Varadkar, Mr Juncker told a press conference that Brexit issues affecting Ireland were not “a bilateral question between Ireland and the United Kingdom” but rather “an issue between the UK and the European Union”.
“We want to make it clear again and again that Ireland is not alone. We have Ireland backed by 26 member states and the commission – this will not change,” he said. “I am strongly against any temptation to isolate Ireland and not to conclude the deal on Ireland. Ireland has to be part of the deal.”
The potential for Ireland to be left exposed as an outstanding issue at the end of negotiations on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU was discussed in a number of internal meetings among senior Government figures in recent days.
Mr Varadkar told a meeting of the Cabinet subcommittee on the EU, which deals with Brexit issues, that the Government was not planning for a hard border.
The Government is insisting it will still not make any preparations for a hard border, even as Mr Juncker warned the Dáil that provision must be made for a “no deal” Brexit.