Ireland can have discussions with UK which are not ‘negotiations’

Concern in Dáil at UK suggestion Taoiseach has ‘shared responsibility’ for solution

Brendan Howlin:” Isn’t it time that we actually faced that reality and tried to find a solution before we slip over the edge?”

Brendan Howlin:” Isn’t it time that we actually faced that reality and tried to find a solution before we slip over the edge?”

 

Ireland will not be “cleaved from the EU” into bilateral negotiations with the UK on Brexit, but it is “reasonable” to have discussions with Britain about avoiding a hard border, the Taoiseach has told the Dáil.

Leo Varadkar said it “makes sense” for the Government to talk to the UK on issues such as the common travel area to ensure it is protected.

“We can discuss with the UK government options and solutions for avoiding a hard border on the island and any physical infrastructure or any associated customs and checks.”

Mr Varadkar said it was reasonable to do this, and it was the Government’s responsibility to do so. “I don’t want to be in a situation in a year’s time where despite everyone’s best efforts somehow we end up in a chaotic hard Brexit with no agreement.”

He stressed, however, that “discussions” were not “negotiations”, and the only bilateral negotiations that could occur were those between the EU and the UK.

He told Labour leader Brendan Howlin “that the UK might be starting to understand that negotiating with a bloc 10 times bigger than itself is not a strong position to be in”.

“We will not allow ourselves to be cleaved from the European Union, and any negotiations that occur will take place between the EU and the United Kingdom, with our input into the EU’s position.”

Options

However, he said it was appropriate to have discussions with the UK “but talking about solutions and looking at options are not negotiations. The only negotiations that can occur bilaterally are between the EU and the UK.”

Mr Howlin expressed concern that British prime minister Theresa May in a speech last week appeared to suggest “that the Taoiseach had taken a shared responsibility to find a solution”.

Mr Howlin said it was “beyond belief” that 20 months after the referendum and into negotiations and weeks away from a crucial EU Council summit “the UK is still deaf to the fact that Ireland is negotiating as part of a bloc of 27” and that it has to come up with solutions.

The Wexford TD said the despite all the talk it was a fact that “we are now heading towards a hard border on the island of Ireland, and a border between the island of Ireland and our biggest trading partner, the UK”.

Over the edge

He asked: “Isn’t it time that we actually faced that reality and tried to find a solution before we slip over the edge?”

However, the Taoiseach insisted the December joint report was “much more than words. It is written down in black and white.”

He said it was a political agreement, and one the UK government continued to say it abided by.

“We have a solution, namely option C”, the fallback option to keep the North part of the single market on goods if a better solution could not be reached. But he said it was right to explore whether a better option could be achieved.