Taoiseach: Brexit ball is in London court
Leo Varadkar acknowledges relations between Ireland UK ‘strained’ in the last year or two
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil he believed there was time to put the Brexit border agreement back on track. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.
“As things stand, the ball is very much in London…the ball is in London’s court,’’ he said.
He told the Dáil Britain’s prime minister Theresa May, the EU Commission and the negotiating teams had asked for more time.
“We are happy there should be more time,’’ he added. “The European council does not meet until Thursday of next week, so there is time to put the agreement back on track.”
Addressing the Unionist community, Mr Varadkar said the Republic’s Government and parliament respected the Belfast Agreement in all its parts.
“We have no hidden agenda,’’ he added. “We respect the constitutional status of Northern Ireland which says that it is part of the United Kingdom until a majority of people in Northern Ireland say otherwise.’’
He said the Republic had the practical aim of allowing people live their lives and carry out their business in the normal way, as they had done for 20 years.
The Taoiseach said it was also important to remember the nationalist community.
“We do say to the nationalist community that we will protect your rights and your freedoms and protect the peace you are equally entitled to,’’ he added.
“We recognise there is not just one political party in Northern Ireland.’’
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said nobody wanted a hard border.
The absence of an assembly and executive in the North had not served the people of Northern Ireland well.
He said the majority in the assembly had opposed Brexit.
The Taoiseach said relations between Ireland and Britain were “probably at their peak since Independence around the time of the Queen’s visit and the years after that”.
He then acknowledged that relations “have been strained in the last year or two”.
But he told Labour leader Brendan Howlin that this was “not because of decisions we made but because of Brexit, which has been a British policy and a British decision, one that we respect but one that we are very aware causes enormous problems not just for us but for others in Europe as well”.
He said the British government and Brexit supporters by refusing the deal had “made it impossible to talk about those technical solutions which they believe can solve our problems.
“So having asked us to start engaging in options as to how you can avoid a hard border, they’ve decided they don’t want to have that conversation simply because we’ve asked that there be a backstop that assures us that there will not be a border with Northern Ireland.”
Mr Varadkar reiterated however that he was “very firmly of the view” that British prime minister Theresa May is negotiating in good faith” and that her team were negotiating in good faith as well.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said Downing Street was briefing that the text had not been finalised on Monday.
But Mr Varadkar told him the text was agreed by the negotiating teams on both sides on Monday morning and was confirmed to him in phone calls with Commission president Jean Claude Juncker and EU council president Donald Tusk on Monday morning as well.
He said it was only at lunch time that they got an indication that a problem had arisen.
Mr Adams said any deal agreed had to have the “legal and political infrastructure of the Good Friday Agreement hard-wired into it”.
The Taoiseach said the agreement that he believed was in place was one that defended the Belfast Agreement and its successor agreements, and one that would continue to ensure everyone born in Northern Ireland would continue to be a British and Irish citizen and therefore a citizen of the European Union.
This would allow people born in Derry or Belfast to travel and work anywhere in the EU, rights that people born in Sheffield or Leeds had given up in the Brexit vote, he said.
It included the common travel area that brought with it a whole set of reciprocal rights.
“And we agreed a solution that we still believe allows us to keep the border open to free trade and that there would not be a hard border, and no physical infrastructure.
“The solution would be ensured in one of three ways - either through an EU/UK new agreement, or bespoke solutions that the British government would come up with or if all else failed by ensuring that the regulatory alignment continued between Northern Ireland and the EU.”