EU ‘could be flexible’ on red line Brexit issues, says Varadkar

But Michel Barnier says EU will not compromise on single market’s ‘four freedoms’

Leo Varadkar told Opposition leaders Brexit may form part of discussions in the informal EU summit in September. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

Leo Varadkar told Opposition leaders Brexit may form part of discussions in the informal EU summit in September. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

 

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that the EU could respond to the easing of the British Brexit position by showing “flexibility” in the negotiations. However, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has warned against any undermining of the single market.

Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday Mr Varadkar repeatedly spoke of potential flexibility on the part of the EU after UK prime minister Theresa May refused to have her new, softer Brexit position derailed by high-profile resignations from her cabinet.

Mr Varadkar said the British White Paper, which will flesh out the proposals of the British government agreed last weekend, will be published this week.

“On the face of what we see, it can have an input to the talks on the future relationship,” Mr Varadkar said.

“It is welcome and, as we have always said in the past, if the United Kingdom was able to relax its position regarding some of its red-line issues, then the European Union could also be flexible. Perhaps we are now entering into that space.”

Later Mr Varadkar added: “If the United Kingdom is willing to modify and evolve some of its red lines, the European Union should be flexible also. In the period ahead it is a space we can be in.”

However, Mr Varadkar also emphasised that the Government would not be resiling from its demands for the backstop to be part of the withdrawal treaty governing the UK’s exit from the EU, though he indicated that the Government was willing to negotiate the precise wording.

He said he was “not hung up on legal texts around the backstop”.

“It’s about the outcome, it’s about achieving a legally binding agreement that there can be no hard border with Northern Ireland,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said that there was a risk that the ratification of an EU-UK exit treaty could be derailed if one country refused to ratify it.

“Should we fail to conclude successfully and to our satisfaction a UK-EU final state treaty, we must have a backstop on which to fall back,” he said.

Close contact

Despite the difficulties over the border backstop, Mr Varadkar was keen to stress continuing co-operation with the British government. He had spoken to Mrs May for half an hour last weekend, he said.

“I am in touch with the prime minister. We are in contact sherpa to sherpa and chief adviser to chief adviser. The Tánaiste is in close contact with his opposite number, David Lidington, as is, of course, the Minister for Finance with Philip Hammond,” Mr Varadkar said.

But in New York, Michel Barnier warned that the EU would not compromise on the “four freedoms” of the single market.

“Everybody will understand that we will protect the single market, which is based on the indivisibility of what we call the four freedoms: of movement, for people, goods, services and capital,” he said.

“The British government has always had a very high degree of influence in building the single market. They know the rules. They know the indivisibility of the four freedoms,” Mr Barnier said.

Mr Barnier also said both sides would have to find a compromise on the Irish Border.