Leo Varadkar not ‘fatalistic’ about prospect of a no-deal Brexit
Speaking in Belfast, Taoiseach says withdrawal agreement closed but still room for talks
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that in the event of a no-deal Brexit new British-European Union negotiations must open up in which one of the first three items on the agenda will be a “a solution to the Irish Border”.
Speaking during a visit to Hillsborough Castle on Tuesday, Mr Varadkar said some people may be “weary of Brexit” and take the view that the negotiations end on October 31st, either with a deal or no-deal.
However, it would not be “all done” on that date, he said. “This goes on and on and on for many years. This doesn’t end. This is a permanent new status.
“This doesn’t end on October 31st. If there is a deal we are going to enter several years of negotiations on a new free trade agreement with the UK and a new economic and security partnership,” he said.
“If there is no-deal then at a certain point we will have to begin negotiations again and the first items on the agenda will be citizens’ rights, the financial settlement (with the EU) and a solution to the Irish Border.
“Brexit is not a storm that we weather or a severe weather event that we prepare for. It is a permanent change in relations between the European Union including Ireland and the United Kingdom. That needs to be borne in mind.”
Mr Varadkar said he did not accept that such was the British government-EU polarisation at the moment that a no-deal was unavoidable.
“I am not fatalistic about that,” he said. “Our position is that the withdrawal agreement, including the backstop, is closed but there is always room for talks and negotiations.”
The EU, he added, already had demonstrated it was prepared to make changes to the political declaration and was open to providing clarification where required.
It was still possible to reach agreement. “But as is often the case before you come to an agreement things can be a little bit difficult but they end with agreement,” he said.
“In terms of no-deal as time goes on that becomes more likely. That is why we have been preparing for it even before the referendum took place.”
Mr Varadkar said his invitation to British prime minister Boris Johnson to visit Dublin to hold talks “without preconditions” on Brexit, Northern Ireland and British-Irish relations was still open.
“I am not going to negotiate over the airwaves or through the media. The invitation stands and hopefully he will take it up in the next couple of weeks.”
Mr Varadkar gave his press conference in the throne room of Hillsborough Castle, the official Northern Irish residence of Queen Elizabeth, and was the first Fine Gael Taoiseach to visit the castle since Dr Garrett FitzGerald signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement there in 1985.
He was asked had he a view about the row in Northern Ireland over portraits of the queen purportedly being removed from the Northern Ireland Office building at Stormont House because of an objection by a civil servant.
“In relation to the portraits, that is absolutely a matter for the Northern Ireland Office, and not one for me to make any decisions on,” he said. “The only thing I would say that in Dublin Castle we do have portraits of British monarchs, and we haven’t taken them down. They certainly don’t offend.”
On the issue of a referendum on a united Ireland, Mr Varadkar said: “We don’t favour a Border poll at this time. We believe there is a high probability it would be defeated and it would be divisive here in Northern Ireland.”
As per protocol before his tour of the castle and gardens, Mr Varadkar was greeted by the local MP, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson who represents Lagan Valley. Mr Varadkar recommended any visitors to Northern Ireland to take in the tour.
“We would love to see more people visit and it really is a wonderful place to visit,” he said.
This is the Taoiseach’s second visit to Northern Ireland in the past four days. On Saturday he attended the Pride parade in Belfast.
After his tour of Hillsborough Castle and gardens Mr Varadkar is meeting chambers of commerce representatives from Northern Ireland and the Republic. He is also visiting an interface project in north Belfast before taking part tonight in the West Belfast Féile leaders’ debate in St Mary’s University on the Falls Road.
Brexit and the Sinn Féin push for a Border poll are scheduled to feature in what could be a lively engagement. Also participating are the DUP MP for East Derry Gregory Campbell, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald, Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Smith, SDLP Assembly member Daniel McCrossan, Ulster Unionist Party MLA Doug Beattie and Alliance leader Naomi Long.
Féile director Kevin Gamble said he was delighted the Taoiseach was participating in the debate which is being chaired by BBC broadcaster William Crawley.
“The leaders’ debate is a significant event and takes place as conversations about the constitutional future of Ireland continue to gather pace with Brexit looming on the horizon,” he said.