Varadkar wants legally-binding agreement on Border

Taoiseach says Brexit is complicated negotiation but Government’s objectives are very simple

Mr Varadkar said checks between Ireland and Britain would be inevitable if the UK decided to leave the customs union and the single market and did not replace them with a new arrangement that was very similar or close to them

Mr Varadkar said checks between Ireland and Britain would be inevitable if the UK decided to leave the customs union and the single market and did not replace them with a new arrangement that was very similar or close to them

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The Government wants the avoidance of a hard border between the Republic and the North written into the agreement on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

He told the Dáil on Wednesday the “back-stop”, or the “last resort” as British prime minister Theresa May preferred to call it, was a special arrangement for Northern Ireland whereby it would it would retain full regulatory alignment with the EU.

“Our objective now is to make sure that is written into the withdrawal agreement,” he said.

Two weeks ago, said Mr Varadkar, it was agreed in “black and white” and the European Council had made it clear the negotiations could only progress so long as all commitments undertaken in the first phase were respected in full.

The December agreement, in the first phase of the Brexit talks, included a provision that there would be no hard border.

Mr Varadkar said the Government had achieved what it wanted in phase one, and now it wanted to ensure in phase two that the avoidance of a hard border was included in a legally-binding agreement between the UK and the EU.

Objectives

He confirmed the Government had been asked to work with the British authorities at official level, but all negotiations had to be done with a task force under EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Mr Varadkar said Brexit was a complicated negotiation but the Government’s objectives were very simple. “Our first and overriding objective is to ensure we continue to have free movement of people and free trade, not just North and South but also between Britain and Ireland.”

The Taoiseach was replying to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who said the situation was very uncertain.

Mr Martin said most people thought, from the agreement before Christmas, that it had all been sealed and delivered. He suggested the Republic was being “sucked into” negotiations with Britain that would result in a final status agreement which would ultimately be damaging to us and inevitably mean border checks.

“If Britain has consistently said that it will stay out of the customs union and the single market, anything less than membership of same will involve border checks of some kind,” Mr Martin added.

He said Mr Barnier was correct in saying that.

New arrangement

Mr Varadkar said checks between Ireland and Britain would be inevitable if the UK decided to leave the customs union and the single market and did not replace them with a new arrangement that was very similar or close to them.

“However, it is in that scenario that we trigger the back-stop, that we trigger what is there in the joint report from December, which is not just for the transition but, on an ongoing basis, a special unique arrangement for Northern Ireland that maintains full alignment.”

Mr Varadkar said he did not want a border between Dundalk and Newry any more than he wanted one between Dublin and Holyhead or between Rosslare and Fishguard.

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