Referendum in North on EU risks becoming divisive border poll - Taoiseach

Varadkar stresses no change in EU position despite UK ‘anonymous briefings’

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil he was aware of the various anonymous briefings but did not think much of them “whether from Downing Street or from my own ranks”. File photograph:  Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil he was aware of the various anonymous briefings but did not think much of them “whether from Downing Street or from my own ranks”. File photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

 

A referendum in the North on EU membership risks becoming a border poll on a united Ireland and could divide the two communities, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned.

He said the Government was “absolutely open to proposals that take into account the democratic wishes and views of the people of Northern Ireland on consent and democracy”.

But he said they had to make sure that any such arrangements were workable.

And he added that any solution the Government proposed or recommended had to have the support of the people of Northern Ireland.

“And they have given their views on this. They do not want to leave the EU, they would accept the backstop and they do not support the proposals currently on the table from the British Government.”

Mr Varadkar also said it was a “a sad fact that the Northern Ireland Assembly has not met for three years” and “we have to bear that in mind in any clause on consent or democracy”.

He was responding in the Dáil on Wednesday to Green party leader Eamon Ryan who referred to anonymous briefings from Downing Street that any deal the UK offered would not be revived after October 31st.

The Taoiseach was aware of the various anonymous briefings but did not think much of them “whether from Downing Street or from my own ranks”.

Mr Ryan said the EU may be willing to accept a consent approach in Northern Ireland based on a “double majority”.

But the Taoiseach stressed there had been no change to the EU negotiating position

“We decide our guidelines at EU Council meetings and they have not changed and they certainly cannot change until the summit next week at the very earliest.”

‘Grave difficulty’

He said the Government wanted an agreement on Brexit. “We will work until the last moment to get one but not at any cost.”

Media reports of proposals suggested that the North would remain in the customs unions and single market with a border in the Irish Sea for a set number of years - a seven year deadline has been mentioned - after which a majority of both nationalists and unionists, a “double majority”, would be required for the arrangement to change.

Mr Ryan said his party proposed a referendum in the North, “not a Border poll about sovereignty or unity but one on the specifics of a deal”.

The Taoiseach stressed that referendums were “unusual tools in politics and sometimes when it comes to a referendum, people do not necessarily answer the question that is being asked”.

He said if there were to be a referendum “even though it would not be a Border poll on the ballot paper, there is a risk that it might become a proxy Border poll and cause division among the communities there”.

He added: “That is not a reason not to do it but it is something that we need to bear in mind in any of our considerations.”

The Taoiseach said the UK’s position is that the North must leave the EU customs union and be part of the UK customs union “no matter what the people of Northern Ireland think”.

That “creates a grave difficulty for us because we want there to be a deal that respects the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland and the people in this Republic too”.