Government expects UK to ‘hold firm’ to Brexit commitments
Leo Varadkar tells Dáil ‘we will secure legal withdrawal agreement by October’
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Tánaiste Simon Coveney at the launch of Global Ireland Footprint to 2025 in Dublin on Monday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
The Government expects the UK government “to hold firm to the commitments they made” on Brexit six months ago, the Taoiseach has said.
He insisted that “we secured a political agreement in December and we will secure a legal withdrawal agreement by October”.
Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that the political agreement and guarantees made in December between the UK and the EU “are all very much cast-iron guaranteed”.
He said agreement was reached on a common travel area, on funding for Northern Ireland and border areas and on citizens’ rights, and “I don’t think anyone is doubting these at present”.
Mr Varadkar said he had also used the term “bulletproof” regarding commitments on the Border and that they had had to insist the guarantees given by the UK were written into the withdrawal agreement.
That “is where matters stand”, he insisted, adding that the Government could not accept the UK government’s implied 2021 expiry date for regulatory alignment in the paper it produced last week.
Mr Varadkar stressed that “the whole point of a backstop is that it implies it will exist unless and until there is a new treaty between the EU and UK that makes it unnecessary”.
And “this is where we need further movement and concessions from the UK government between now and the forthcoming summit”.
The original backstop agreement reached was that Northern Ireland would remain in regulatory alignment with the EU should there be no final agreement between the UK and the EU.
Mr Varadkar was responding to Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane, who said the problem was that “the British government has essentially taken the cast-iron guarantee off the table”.
He said that in its recent paper the British authorities had “restructured matters in order to write the North out of the script and turn what is a backstop or permanent solution in the event of no deal into an extension of the negotiating period”.
The Waterford TD asked “what will happen in the event there is no deal? What will happen then for Ireland?”
He asked what needed to be done for the Taoiseach to say that “real and sufficient progress has been made”.
Mr Varadkar told him, however, that “my priority is to secure the agreement and not to sell it”.
He said they had secured the political agreement and would secure a legal withdrawal agreement by October.
“That is exactly what I am focused on and what the Tánaiste and all of our teams are focused on also. That is that we intend to do.”
But he pointed out that dealing with Brexit was not solely a matter of North-South and Northern Ireland issues, even though they were of paramount importance because they were issues of national importance.
The Taoiseach stressed the importance of the east-west element. He said having the UK in a customs arrangement or partnership with the EU is to Ireland’s advantage for farmers or those involved in the agrifood sector or in tourism.
A small business or a multinational exporting to the UK also needs that customs arrangement or partnership, he said. “If the UK can produce solutions that allow us to avoid a hard border, not just North and South but also east-west, that is positive.”