Boris Johnson to meet Leo Varadkar in Dublin on Monday
Johnson suggests agri-food could continue to be regulated on an all-Ireland basis after Brexit
The British prime minister Boris Johnson is to visit Dublin next Monday for a meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Mr Johnson is scheduled to meet Mr Varadkar for talks on Brexit and the North amid continuing political turmoil at Westminster and growing fears about a no-deal Brexit at the end of October.
A Government spokesman said he was “happy to confirm that the prime minister has accepted the Taoiseach’s invitation”.
However, the spokesman said that while the talks would cover a wide agenda, including Brexit, they would not be negotiations on the Northern Ireland backstop or the Border.
“We don’t negotiate bilaterally,” he said. The Government has consistently stressed that negotiations on Brexit take place between the UK and the EU27, for which Michel Barnier speaks.
Ministers had a lengthy discussion at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, which stretched into the late evening, about no-deal preparations.
The Government spokesman said Ministers discussed the increasing risk of a no-deal and there were contributions from a number of ministers about preparations in their own departments.
No deal planning was now “an absolute priority” across Government, he said.
The Government intends to launch a “call to action” to businesses as well as a public information campaign aimed at citizens to inform them about the consequences of a no-deal.
A number of exercises were also planned, the spokesman said. These would be “desktop exercises” which would “inform the approach to emergency crisis management” in the event of a no-deal.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe told his colleagues he will bring forward a memo in the coming weeks which would recommend if the budget should be prepared on the basis of a no-deal.
Officials said the agenda for the meeting with Mr Johnson was being finalised, though they were careful to make clear that there would be no negotiation of post-Brexit arrangements on the Border.
On Tuesday, Mr Johnson suggested that agri-food could continue to be regulated on an all-Ireland basis after Brexit, creating a regulatory barrier down the Irish Sea.
The prime minister told MPs that he would discuss the proposal with Mr Varadkar on Monday.
“We recognise that for reasons of geography and economics, agrifood is increasingly managed on a common basis across the island of Ireland. We are ready to find ways forward that recognise this reality, provided it clearly enjoys the consent of all parties and institutions with an interest. We will also be discussing all this with the EU shortly and I will be discussing it with the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, when I see him in Dublin on Monday,” Mr Johnson said.
Mr Johnson’s government has not yet presented any proposals to the EU for alternatives to the Northern Ireland backstop for keeping the Border open after Brexit. But he told the House of Commons on Tuesday that workable alternatives were available.
“There are practical arrangements that we can find which avoid anyone putting infrastructure on the Irish border. These have been well worked out and involve measures such as trusted trader schemes, transit provisions, frontier zones, reduced bureaucracy for small and local traders, and many others,” he said.
These measures have been previously rejected by the EU as insufficient, and privately both EU and Irish officials are highly critical of the failure by the UK to bring forward concrete proposals, while insisting at Westminster that progress was being made in talks with Brussels.