Varadkar says time running out to table ‘reasonable’ Brexit proposals

Taoiseach will look at proposals that are ‘the same or better’ than what is outlined in the backstop

Belgian prime minister Charles Michel    and Minister for Business Heather Humphreys on the Louth/Down Border. Photograph: EPA

Belgian prime minister Charles Michel and Minister for Business Heather Humphreys on the Louth/Down Border. Photograph: EPA

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Ireland will examine “reasonable” proposals from the British government on how to avoid a hard border after Brexit, but time is running out for such measures to be tabled, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Mr Varadkar repeated the Irish Government’s position that there must be progress on the so-called Irish Border “backstop” by the next meeting of the European Council in late June.

The backstop – which would ensure no divergence in customs and trade rules between the Republic and Northern Ireland without agreed solutions on how to avoid a hard border – was agreed in principle in December, although the UK has rejected the EU’s legal interpretation of it.

The UK and EU are due to agree a Withdrawal Agreement, including the Irish “backstop”, by October.

Mr Varadkar was speaking after a meeting in Dublin on Thursday with Belgian prime minister Charles Michel. Mr Michel had earlier visited the Louth-Down Border with Minister for Business Heather Humphreys.

‘New thinking’

Before Mr Michel travelled to Dublin, he met with British prime minister Theresa May in London on Wednesday. It is understood he told Mrs May that Britain should remain in the customs union after Brexit.

Mr Varadkar met Mrs May at an EU summit in Sofia last week, where the Taoiseach said he had been given some insights into “new thinking” from Britain on future customs arrangements.

However, he said on Thursday he had yet to see any firm proposals from London.

The Taoiseach again said Ireland would not accept “any physical infrastructure or any associated checks or controls” on the Border, but did not rule out technological solutions that would not need physical infrastructure.

“Any reasonable person is willing to examine reasonable proposals,” he said, adding that he would look at proposals that were the “same or better” than what has been outlined in the backstop.

Suggestions

However, the Taoiseach would not be drawn on suggestions of the UK remaining aligned to the European customs union for an extended, but time-limited period while it worked out how to avoid a hard border by using technology.

“We don’t yet have firm proposals,” the Taoiseach said. “We are very much in the space where we need legal text...we need to see significant, substantial progress on the text of the backstop before the June European Council, which is now only five weeks away.”

After their meeting Mr Varadkar and Mr Michel went to the Lincoln Inn pub in Lincoln Place, near Government Buildings, for a drink.

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