Common Travel Area between Republic and UK will remain

No-deal Brexit will not affect open borders between the two countries, says Taoiseach

Fine Gael think-in: Minister of State for Housing Damien English and Leo Varadkar on Friday. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Fine Gael think-in: Minister of State for Housing Damien English and Leo Varadkar on Friday. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

a
 

The Common Travel Area between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom will remain in place even in the event of a no-deal Brexit next year, the Taoiseach has said.

As fears mount that the European Union and UK will fail to strike a withdrawal agreement this year – which would mean the UK crashing out of the EU next March with no transition period – Leo Varadkar said he was confident that the Common Travel Area would survive. The CTA, which has been in operation since shortly after independence, in 1922, allows Irish and UK citizens to travel freely, work and use public services in both jurisdictions.

“As you know, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” Mr Varadkar said at the conclusion of the Fine Gael think-in in Salthill, Galway. “However, I am confident that, no matter what happens, the Common Travel Area will remain in place . . . The European Union has taken the view that we can continue that.”

Housing powers

Mr Varadkar rejected the suggestion that the move announced at the conference by Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy to threaten to take housing powers away from local authorities was a device to shift blame for the crisis from national government.

“No, it’s not a device. The Government is absolutely clear about what we want to do to deal with the housing crisis,” he said. Parties that were very critical of the Government’s record on housing “are in positions of power on local authorities – Dublin City Council, South Dublin County Council, for example, the largest party on that council is Sinn Féin,” he said. “A lot of those councils are very much dominated by left-wing parties. And they have a role to play, too. It’s not good enough for them always to be criticising the Government, always putting all the blame on government.”

The two-day event in Galway was dominated by housing, with Fine Gael figures rallying to the defence of Mr Murphy, who has been fiercely criticised by Opposition parties and interest groups, and who will face a motion of no confidence tabled by Sinn Féin when the Dáil returns.

Mr Varadkar rejected any suggestion that he regretted appointing Mr Murphy to the post. “There are extremely difficult jobs in government, and there can be no doubt that, at the moment, housing is one of those. But I don’t think any reasonable person can hold Eoghan Murphy, a Minister who is in office just over a year now, personally responsible for all of the problems that exist in our housing market,” he said.

Mr Varadkar acknowledged that the numbers in emergency accommodation continued to rise but said other numbers – including those for rough sleepers, and the numbers of new houses being built – were going “in the right direction”.

Security costs

Mr Varadkar also said security for Donald Trump’s visit to Ireland in November would “undoubtedly” cost several million euro, but as the Government had little detail at this stage about the visit, it was impossible to estimate a total cost to the State.

He declined to agree with the characterisation of Mr Trump’s policies by the former taoiseach Enda Kenny as “racist and dangerous”. “A lot of us disagree with many of the statements that [the president] has made and many of the policies that are being introduced by the US government. However, that is not a reason not to engage,” Mr Varadkar said.

“There are lots of governments who are unelected around the world that we engage with, including, for example, the government of China. There are other governments with which we disagree profoundly. Yet the best policy in terms of changing things is a policy of engagement. Boycotts and protests don’t really change things in my experience, not when it comes to foreign policy.”

a