Respect Irish vote on Belfast Agreement, Taoiseach tells Brexiteers

Varadkar says UK voted by 51.8% for Brexit, while Ireland voted 97% and NI 72% for peace deal

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Brexiteers needed to honour the Irish vote on the Belfast Agreement. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Brexiteers needed to honour the Irish vote on the Belfast Agreement. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has called on Brexit supporters to respect Ireland’s vote for the Belfast Agreement in the same way that they call on the Irish to accept the Brexit referendum result.

Confirming that there will be no diluting or dismissing the peace agreement signed 20 years ago, Mr Varadkar said he had heard hard line Brexiteers who were not members of the British government questioning the future of the Belfast Agreement.

He said “these are the same people who say to us that we should respect their vote, that we should respect their referendum, the 51.8 per cent vote for Brexit”.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar said: “I remind them that the Good Friday Agreement was approved by the Irish people, 94 per cent in this State, 71 per cent in Northern Ireland and they should respect our vote too.”

The Taoiseach was responding to Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald who said the British government and Brexiteers “engaged in their Brexit debate with zero regard for the impact on Ireland”.

Commenting on the publication of the Brexit draft withdrawal document in Brussels at 11 am, she welcomed that the EU now “explicitly accepts that special arrangements are required for the North” and the recognition that the North should stay inside the customs union.

But she expressed concern at any prospect that the North might exit the single market and called for the convening of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

Mr Varadkar said a date had not been agreed for such a meeting but they were in regular with the British government.

The Taoiseach also commended the “constructive and measured approach” taken by Sinn Féin on Brexit in recent months.

Mr Varadkar said the draft withdrawal document had been described by British prime minister Theresa May as “the last resort”. The Government’s preferred option was option A which avoids a border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and a hard border between Britain and Ireland.

“Option A is still an option but it is now incumbent on the British government in particular to put forward in detail their proposals on how that can be achieved.”

He said “there will be people, hardline Brexiteers, and some politicians in Northern Ireland, who will say No who will be angry at what they see today. But just saying no and just being angry isn’t enough.

“If people don’t like what they see it is incumbent on them to come up with alternative solutions” and to put them down in a legal document so that they could be debated and enforced if accepted.

Ms McDonald warned that some British ministers now “want to conclude their debate and make their exit by putting the Good Friday Agreement through the shredder”.

She said the “Tory-DUP axis is satisfied to treat the welfare of the people of this island as collateral damage so long as they can achieve their little Englander Brexit”.

Mr Varadkar said that he had been in regular contact with British prime minister Theresa May and “her government stands by their pledge to avoid a hard border and they are steadfast in their support of the good Friday Agreement.”