No-deal Brexit will hit UK’s ability to strike trade deals, says Varadkar

Countries are asking if the UK can ‘make [trade deals], ratify them and stick to them’

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said that there is a natural extension date to the Brexit deadline at the end of June if "there is a plan to go with that". Video: Department of Foreign Affairs


Britain’s ability to reach trade deals and agreements with other countries will be damaged if it leaves the European Union without a deal, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Mr Varadkar said governments and parliaments are usually able to ratify international treaties but said the inability of the House of Commons to ratify the Brexit withdrawal agreement means the UK is currently stuck.

“Generally speaking, governments and parliaments are able to ratify international treaties,” Mr Varadkar told journalists at the all island civic dialogue on Brexit at Dublin Castle on Friday.

He said the case for Brexit from some of its advocates has been that Britain could then strike new deals, such as trade deals, around the world. This will be damaged, he said, if MPs in London cannot agree a Brexit withdrawal deal.

“The fact that the United Kingdom is stuck and is unable to ratify this agreement creates huge difficulties for them, I think, not just now but into also the future because part of the case for Brexit was that the United Kingdom would be able to strike trade deals and new agreements with countries all over the world.

“But countries all over the world are looking at the United Kingdom and wondering is this a country that is going to be able to make agreements, ratify them and stick to them.”

On reports that Ireland will have border checks with Northern Ireland in the event of a no deal Brexit, or have checks between the island of Ireland and mainland Europe, Mr Varadkar said such a prospect had not been discussed and he rejected it as an idea.

“Whatever happens, Ireland is going to stay part of the European Union. It is the common European home we helped to build.

“We are founder members of the single market. We can’t allow a decision made in Britain to leave the European Union to undermine our membership of the single market and customs union, which we will protect.

“I don’t see how it would avoid a hard border. It would create a hard border between Ireland and the European Union and that is not something we can accept.”

He also said anyone expecting the unity of the EU27 to crack in the weeks ahead will be in for a “nasty surprise”.

British prime minister Theresa May on Thursday lost another vote in the House of Commons on her Brexit strategy, with hardline Brexiteer MPs choosing to abstain rather than support Mrs May.

The Taoiseach said there is a “certainly a hardline rump of MPs” who want a no deal Brexit, but added the vast majority understand the damage that would cause.

“There is certainly a hardline rump of MPs who would like no deal, who would like what they believe would be a clean break from the European Union but I am confident that the vast majority of MPs in all parties in fact, including the Conservative Party, understand the consequences of that and the enormous damage it would do to the economy and also people’s rights and freedoms. So I don’t think they will pull that particular lever when it comes to it.”

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said it is now clear there is a no deal caucus in the House of Commons who will not be satisfied unless Britain leaves the EU without a deal at the end of March.

Mr Varadkar declined to say if Mrs May should ignore such hardliners.

Asked about an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period, Mr Varadkar said: “I don’t think it is inevitable, it is certainly possible.” The Taoiseach was also asked if UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could be more helpful in seeking a Brexit resolution.

“I have had views on that obviously but I think the smartest thing for me to do is not to intervene and comment on internal British politics. I’d be happy to talk to you about it over a drink or something but definitely not in our national interest for me to be giving advice.”

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