Ireland will not accept ‘halfway house’ Brexit deal, says Varadkar

Taoiseach dismisses reports the State will come under EU pressure to compromise

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar  has hit back at reports suggesting that the State will come under pressure from larger EU countries to change its stance on Brexit. File photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has hit back at reports suggesting that the State will come under pressure from larger EU countries to change its stance on Brexit. File photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has rejected reports Ireland will come under pressure from larger EU countries to change its stance over Brexit, warning that he will not accept a “halfway house” deal.

Speaking in New York ahead of a meeting with British prime minister Boris Johnson, Mr Varadkar said while some people may believe that Ireland would “somehow fold or give up our position” on Brexit, “that’s not going to happen”.

The Taoiseach said: “One thing I do know about Brexit for the past two or three years, and there are some people in Britain – perhaps not in government – but some people in Britain that took the view that sooner or later the French and Germans and big countries would gang up on Ireland and that’s never happened.”

Mr Varadkar’s comments follow reports the British government has begun strong lobbying across the EU to argue that Ireland will be under huge pressure to compromise on the Brexit backstop.

The Taoiseach added that Ireland “can’t accept some sort of halfway house” on Brexit.

“The position we’ve had all along is that we’re wiling to examine alternative arrangements that achieve the same objectives as the backstop, objectives we’ve agreed to - no hard border, North-South co-operation continues as it does now, protecting the all-island economy,” he said.

“If the United Kingdom can come up with alternative arrangements that meet those objectives that are legally binding, well we’re willing to accept that and examine those. But so far anything that they’ve come up with falls very far short of that,” he said. “ We will work until the very last moment to avoid no deal, but not at any cost.”

Mr Varadkar is due to meet Mr Johnson on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. But speaking to reporters en route to New York, the British leader played down expectations of a breakthrough on Brexit.

The Taoiseach said the meeting would be another opportunity for the two leaders to see if there’s more common ground and progress to be made on the issue.

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“The message I would say to him, is the message that we have said all along: our bottom line is that we need a legally binding assurance that there won’t be a hard border between North and South, that the all-island economy will continue to operate, that North-South co-operation will be able to continue and we can’t accept some sort of halfway house.”

Asked about European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s remarks that border checks would return in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Mr Varadkar said that any new checks would be the result of the British decision to leave the European Union.

Mr Varadkar said that in the event of a no-deal, checks would be necessary, and the Government intended to give farmers and businesses a “decent lead in time so they’ve time to prepare.”

Mr Varadkar also held a 45-minute meeting with European Council president Donald Tusk on Monday. While both leaders said they wanted a deal with Britain, they said the EU side had not seen proposals from the UK that achieve the objectives of the backstop.

‘No compromise’

Meanwhile, Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee has said the Government will not compromise on the backstop in the face of a “catastrophic” no-deal Brexit.

Ms McEntee dismissed suggestions that the consequences of a no-deal exit would be so disastrous for Ireland that Dublin was likely to compromise on the backstop guarantee ahead of the UK’s October 31st exit date.

“That is not something we are willing to do,” Ms McEntee told reporters at an event in Dublin.

The backstop was “not an aim for us”, but “a means to an end” if the future trading agreement made between the EU and the UK does not address the commitments made by the UK to avoid a hard Border and to the 1998 Belfast Agreement underpinning the Northern Ireland peace process.

“So we are preparing for a no-deal. It is not what we want. It will cause catastrophic injury to certain industries and sectors, North and South on this island, but obviously we need to have that legal guarantee and we need the UK to fulfill and live up to their commitments,” said Ms McEntee.

The consequences of a no-deal Brexit were understood in Dublin, she said.

“I don’t think anyone is under any illusion as to how damaging a no-deal exit would be,” she said.

She rejected a suggestion that the Government might have misled the public about the possibility of a hard Border returning after Mr Juncker said over the weekend that Dublin would have to implement Border checks on the EU’s behalf in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

“Absolutely not, there has been no misleading of anybody. We have been very clear and very honest in saying that in the event of a no-deal there would have to be checks,” she said.

Twin objectives

The Fine Gael junior minister stressed that the checks “won’t be on the Border” as there could not be “a security threat” there, and that the European Commission has been very clear on the twin objectives of ensuring there is not infrastructure on the Border and protecting the EU single market and the State’s place in it.

Mr Varadkar would tell Mr Johnson when they meet on Tuesday that the Government was “very open and ready to accept any proposal that the UK may have to replace or to deem the backstop not necessary”, she said.

The paper presented by the UK government to the European Commission last week “did not fulfill the same requirements as the backstop and so we need more”, she said.

“There was still a huge gap between what we need and what has been presented and in order to reach a deal before the 31st of October we really do need to see more progress from the UK and I think the Taoiseach will be outlining that very clearly,” she said.

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