North talks to be put on hold while intensive Brexit discussions take place - Taoiseach

Parties have been asked to ’pause for reflection’ as Brexit draft published, debated

 

The British and Irish governments have asked the parties in the North to put the Stormont talks on hold while intensive discussions on Brexit take place.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that the two governments “have asked the parties to pause for reflection. We think that is advisable at this stage.”

He said that the Brexit negotiations were going to enter a very intense phase over the next couple of weeks.

This would start with the publication on Wednesday of the blueprint legal document for British withdrawal from the EU and the speech on Friday of British prime minister Theresa May on Friday.

“There will be a further visit of Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, to Ireland and the European Council meeting will be held towards the end of March.

“It will be a very intense couple of weeks with regard to Brexit so perhaps it is a good time for the parties in the North to pause for reflection.”

He also said he was to meet a group of civic nationalists on Tuesday night in Government buildings.

Two hundred nationalists in Northern Ireland had signed a letter which appeared in The Irish Times and the Irish News and was sent to the Taoiseach urging him to protect the rights of all citizens in the North. Those who signed the letter represent a broad sweep of northern society including sport, the arts and academia.

Mr Varadkar was speaking during Taoiseach’s questions in the Dáil. Earlier he warned that the draft text of the Brexit withdrawal agreement could be open to political wrangling.

The text “will put down in law how we can avoid a hard border”, he said.

It gives legal effect to the political agreement negotiated between the EU and the British government in December.

Mr Varadkar said the Government is satisfied with the wording and that it would put in law “how we can avoid a hard border”.

But he warned that they could not automatically assume that it would be accepted by the British government or by all parties in the North and “we could have an interesting few weeks ahead of us as we did in December”.

Mr Varadkar was responding to questions from Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald who pointed to the “contradictions inherent in the agreement” at the time, including the claim that there would be no hard border but the North would be taken out of the customs union and the single market.

Ms McDonald said the text “has to explicitly state that there will be no border on the island and the only way to guarantee this for the North to remain the customs union and inside the single market”.

She also said it has to explicitly “protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts”.

The Taoiseach told her that the Government was satisfied with the wording and believed that if there was a hard Brexit, the draft text provided the basis for full regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the EU.

He said the text showed exactly how to avoid a Border and there were three options to do this.

Option A is a new relationship between the EU and Britain in which there is no Border, and this was his preference.

Option B is the “bespoke” option yet to be outlined by the British. Option C is the fallback option of regulatory alignment outlined in the draft text.