Frustrated Leo Varadkar attacks Brexiteers on border issue

‘We’re not going to help design some sort of border we don’t believe should exist’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: said there was a political border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, but not an economic one. Photograph: Collins

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: said there was a political border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, but not an economic one. Photograph: Collins

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has signalled the most significant differences yet with the British government on Brexit, saying on Friday that Ireland was “not going to design a border for the Brexiteers”.

Abandoning the collaborative language that has marked the two governments’ statements on Brexit since the referendum last year, Mr Varadkar expressed clear frustration and indicated that Dublin would not come up with solutions to a problem created by the UK.

“What we’re not going to do is to design a border for the Brexiteers because they’re the ones who want a border. It’s up to them to say what it is, say how it would work and first of all convince their own people, their own voters that this is actually a good idea,” Mr Varadkar told a media briefing at Government Buildings on Friday afternoon.

Mr Varadkar said there was a political border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, but not an economic one.

“As far as this Government is concerned, there shouldn’t be an economic border. We don’t want one,” he said.

“It’s the UK, it’s Britain that has decided to leave and if they want to put forward smart solutions, technological solutions for borders of the future and all of that, that’s up to them.

“We’re not going to be doing that work for them because we don’t think there should be an economic border at all. That is our position. It is our position in negotiations with the British government and it’s the very clear position that we have when we engage with the task force that is negotiating on our behalf with the UK.”

Mr Varadkar said an economic border would not be in the interests of the Republic, Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom, “and we’re not going to be helping them to design some sort of border that we don’t believe should exist in the first place”.

Reason for anger

He continued: “So let them put forward their proposals as to how they think a border should operate and then we’ll ask them if they really think this is such a good idea because I think it will have a very severe impact on their economy if they decide to go down that route.”

Asked if he was frustrated with the British approach to Brexit talks, Mr Varadkar said: “If anyone should be angry, it’s us, quite frankly.”

Officials from Revenue and customs services had been investigating how technological solutions, such as electronic monitoring, could be employed to ensure an open border when the UK leaves the EU. However, a Government spokesman said last night that this work was no longer continuing.

Yesterday, the British government ruled out moving the Border to the Irish Sea after Brexit by imposing customs checks between Northern Ireland and Britain, which the London Times reported was being sought by the Irish Government. Official sources said this had not been formally tabled by the Government, but British officials were informally aware that the Irish had discussed the possibility.

The department for exiting the EU in London said that, although finding a solution for the Border was a top priority, moving controls to ports and airports in the North was out of the question.

“As we have always been clear, our guiding principle will be to ensure that – as we leave the EU – no new barriers to living and doing business within the UK are created. Therefore we cannot create a border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain,” a spokesperson said.

“We aim to have as frictionless and seamless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and we welcome the European Council’s recognition that flexible and creative solutions will be required.”