Lack of Brexit progress by June will bode badly, says Taoiseach

Leo Varadkar warns absence of ‘backstop’ accord will mean no transition period for UK

Britain’s prime minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: Mr Varadkar said if there was no transition period for the UK there would be a hard Brexit with negative consequences for the Irish economy. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that if real and meaningful progress on Brexit is not achieved at a meeting of European Union leaders in June, it is unlikely to happen before an October deadline.

Mr Varadkar insisted that if there was no “backstop” agreement on the Border “there will be no agreement and there will be no transition period for the United Kingdom”.

The “backstop” provides that, in the event of no other agreement, the North will remain fully aligned with the EU customs union and the single market, and thus maintain all the elements of the Belfast Agreement.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil during Taoiseach’s question time that everyone accepted there had to be a backstop in the withdrawal agreement.


He said British prime minister Theresa May accepted that, as did the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his taskforce “as do all of the EU27, so we are in a very strong position in that regard”.

The Taoiseach said if there was no transition period for the UK there would be a hard Brexit with negative consequences for the Irish economy.

Withdrawal agreement

However, despite this, he again insisted that “when I said that we would not leave the people of Northern Ireland behind again, I meant it.

“That is why we are insisting that there cannot be a withdrawal agreement or transition period for the UK if the backstop does not form part of that agreement.”

EU prime ministers and government leaders meet in June with Brexit at the top of the agenda amid deepening divisions within the British government.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said those deepening divisions were of increasing concern because of their potential impact on Ireland.

She said that dragging things out to October was not an option as clarity was urgently needed. She criticised DUP leader Arlene Foster and her party, saying that they had not “faced up to the real dangers that Brexit poses”.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin called for renewed focus on getting powersharing restored and the northern institutions back up and running because no proposal for regulatory alignment had credibility “in the absence of an administration in Belfast that can deliver it”.

So-called bullet-proof

He said it was surprising that “the process in the North appears to be stuck in limbo with no attempts being made to change the dynamic or to push matters forward”.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin warned the “so-called bullet-proof, unalterable safety net that is the backstop is undeliverable”.

He did not believe the current British government could deliver it and he asked how could they negotiate with “people who change position so fundamentally”, referring to British foreign secretary Boris Johnson’s reversal of his agreement and that of the entire British cabinet with Ms May’s Mansion House speech when she said she was looking for a customs partnership arrangement.

The Taoiseach agreed that “if we do not have real and meaningful progress on the text of the backstop agreement by that time [June], it is difficult to see how we will be able to come to an agreement by October at all”. However, he said the Government was in a very strong position on the implementation of the backstop.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times