Border deal is not likely until October, Taoiseach claims
Leo Varadkar says Brexit talks should continue despite the lack of progress on the issue
Leo Varadkar: ‘The deadline is October and I do think it is possible between now and October for us to finalise and negotiate that withdrawal agreement.’ File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
The Government has conceded that any deal on a “backstop” for the Irish Border will not be completed until Britain’s EU withdrawal agreement is finalised in October.
Although Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney have repeatedly stressed in recent months that they wished to see substantial progress on Border issues, the Government now accepts it is unlikely to see more of significance from the British side before a key European Union summit at the end of this month.
That means that the Border issue will be rolled into negotiations over the summer, and will not be concluded until October, when the full withdrawal agreement governing Britain’s exit is due to be completed.
“There is a general acceptance that there won’t be much more progress before June,” said one Government source. “We’re not going to get much more from them [the British]. The pressure is now on for October.”
Speaking on Saturday, Mr Varadkar said: “The deadline is October and I do think it is possible between now and October for us to finalise and negotiate that withdrawal agreement.”
The Taoiseach said that while there had not been sufficient progress on Border issues, the talks should continue.
“The EU 27 states that are staying at the heart of Europe will assess progress and while there has been some progress, I certainly can’t say at this stage that it is sufficient,” he said.
But he said that “rather than stalling things, we need to intensify negotiations in the period ahead”.
Mr Varadkar said agreement was not going to be reached before the EU Council meeting at the end of this month “and that was never going to be the case”.
However, impatience is growing in Brussels with the pace and depth of British engagement with the negotiations.
Last week, the British government proposed that the Border “backstop” arrangement – under which Britain has committed to maintaining EU customs and trade rules in Northern Ireland in the absence of any overall agreement in order to maintain a soft border – should be extended to the whole of the UK after the end of the transition period at the end of 2020.
It said this arrangement should only be implemented for a limited period until a full EU-UK trade and customs agreement was introduced.
However, the British proposals have been rejected by the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who said while the EU was prepared to make special arrangements for Northern Ireland, it was not prepared to extend them to the UK as whole, as this would amount to British “cherrypicking” – where the UK takes the benefits of the single market without applying its rules.
The British have already rejected the EU’s backstop proposals, because they could lead to different rules being applied in the North to the rest of the UK.
However, officials said that this was not a negotiation session, but an informal meeting, and there are no formal negotiating sessions scheduled for this week. The next round of Brexit negotiations are due to take place next week, just a week before the summit of EU leaders.
On Monday in Dublin the Taoiseach will launch Global Ireland 2025, a plan to expand Ireland’s diplomatic, cultural and commercial presence in foreign capitals. The Taoiseach will say the plan is part of Ireland’s response to the challenges posed by Brexit.