Government demands Border details before backing Brexit move

Varadkar: London must explain how to avoid hard Border if it wants to discuss trade

In his opening speech at Fine Gael's National Conference Taoiseach Leo Varadkar promised delegates that there 'can and will not be a return to a border' post Brexit. Video: Fine Gael

The Government wants the UK to spell out in detail how to avoid a hard Border before it will support moving on to the next phase of Brexit negotiations.

Speaking at the British-Irish Council in Jersey, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Ireland, the British government and the European Union all agree there must be no hard Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic but the question of how that can be achieved must be answered before the talks can proceed to their second phase.

Dublin is insisting Britain outline “in clear language a path to identifiable solutions”, according to people involved in the process. “They don’t have to be worked out in detail. But it has to be spelled out what direction they are going in,” said one senior source.

The Government will not favour proceeding to phase two unless the British can offer detail about its proposals to solve the Border problem. With the next EU summit due in mid-December, progress will have to be made quickly if European Union leaders are to give the green light to start negotiations on future trade arrangements and the transition period, as the UK wishes. Although the Government’s position has not changed, Irish requirements have become plainer in recent weeks, sources say.


London impatient

London is becoming increasingly impatient to start phase two, and reacted strongly in recent days to the suggestion that single-market and customs-union rules should continue in Northern Ireland after the UK leaves the EU. But sources in Dublin and Brussels regard the UK response as an overreaction, and the mood at yesterday’s conclusion of the latest round of Brexit negotiations in Brussels was at times strained.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, made clear that time is running out for agreement on the Irish issues and the question of the UK’s Brexit bill. He said London has two weeks to come up with a new and substantial offer on its “divorce” bill if it wants European Union leaders to judge that “sufficient progress” has been made.

Mr Barnier made clear that unless a new offer on the bill, estimated at more than €60 billion, was made by the beginning of December there would be no time to prepare for the debate and a decision at the EU summit two weeks later.

A failure by the UK to meet the December deadline would see the decision on phase-two talks pushed back to next March and cause significant anger in London, strengthening the hand of the hard Brexiteers in the Conservative Party.

Last night, speaking at the Fine Gael party conference, in Cavan, the Taoiseach said there would be “tough calls and hard decisions ahead” and warned that “all these matters are not entirely under our control”.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told the conference Ireland will not be ignored in the Brexit talks. He said more credibility in the negotiations is required if aspirations for a barrier-free Border are to be fulfilled.

In his televised address Mr Varadkar also promised the next three budgets would include tax cuts for middle-income earners, saying the threshold for the higher rate of income tax would be increased in the next budget “and the one after that – and the one after that”.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times