Brexit: UK needs to reveal solution to North Border, says Varadkar
Taoiseach says 18-months after Brexit, ‘they ‘must, at this stage, have a counter proposal’
Speaking at the Fine Gael national conference in Co Cavan, Mr Varadkar said it was 18 months since the UK voted for Brexit and a decade since some people began agitating for Britain to leave the EU.
“If there is an alternative proposal from the UK side, we would like to see it. It is 18-months since the referendum, it is ten years since people started agitating for a referendum,” the Taoiseach said. “They must, at this stage, have a counter proposal.”
He was speaking after serious tensions emerged in the Brexit talks this week, with the UK rejecting an EU suggestion that Northern Ireland could remain in the European single market and customs union after Brexit.
While saying he is not in the “business of laying down ultimatums”, the Taoiseach repeated the Government’s view that a hard Border can be avoided only by the UK, or Northern Ireland on its own, remaining in the European single market and customs union or at least abiding by their rules.
“There is no demand on the United Kingdom or any part of the United Kingdom to stay in the customs union or stay in the single market but we are saying that if we are going to honour this promise that has been given to us by the United Kingdom, we’re saying that can only be done, or best be done, by the United Kingdom, all of it or Northern Ireland as part of it, continuing to apply the rules and regulations of the customs union and the single market.”
The European Council must decide that sufficient progress has been made on the issues of citizens’ rights, the so-called divorce bill and Irish specific issues in order for the Brexit talks to proceed to the next stage, which will focus on a transition period and the future trading relationship between the EU and the UK.
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“What we have done as part of the 27, and bear in mind we are one of a number of 27 member states and we speak as Europe on this and we have the full backing and support of every other member state, is we have set out how we believe we can honour the promises we have been given,” the Taoiseach said on Saturday.
He said British prime minister Theresa May had repeatedly said there will no hard Border in Ireland after Brexit.
This “stubborn” Irish position in the Brexit negotiations was not a “land grab” for Northern Ireland or a “stepping stone” to a united Ireland, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney s said.
Mr Coveney also said Ministers would not be thanked in the future if they did not take a strong position in the negotiations on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.
A discussion in Brexit at the conference also heard from Tánaiste and Minister for Jobs Frances Fitzgerald, Chief Whip Joe McHugh, Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee and Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Andrew Doyle.
Mr Coveney and Ms Fitzgerald repeated that there must be no regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to avoid a hard Border.
Mr Coveney said the Government’s position is “consistent, firm and stubborn” that there should be no “regulatory divergence” post Brexit, in order to allow for a “functioning all-island economy”.
“We essentially operate to the same rule book, it is the same regulatory model,” Mr Coveney said of the existing relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
“That is why this is so important now, relatively early on in these negotiations, that this really matters.”
It is essential to keep a functioning all-island economy, he said. A no-deal Brexit scenario would lead to significant levies, such as 60 per cent on beef.
“We need a future trading relationship with Britain. Our relationship and our economic relationship will remain strong.”
Ms Fitzgerald said businesses that were not prepared for the effects of Brexit needed to get ready.
Mr McHugh said it was important the Stormont Executive resumed to represent Northern Ireland’s interests during the Brexit process.
Mr Doyle said UK will continue to pay into Common Agricultural Policy until 2020, but added a €4bn hole will arise after Brexit due to the loss of the UK fund.