Some Brexiteers ‘still in the cake and eat it space’, Taoiseach says

Varadkar says ‘rough sketch’ of how to avoid hard border emerging and is like backstop

A ‘rough’ sketch is beginning to emerge around how a hard border would be avoided if there is a no-deal Brexit, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

A ‘rough’ sketch is beginning to emerge around how a hard border would be avoided if there is a no-deal Brexit, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

 

A “rough” sketch is beginning to emerge around how a hard border would be avoided if there is a no-deal Brexit, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Speaking at Fine Gael’s national conference in Wexford town, Mr Varadkar said some Brexiteers are “still in the cake and eat it space” but that his Government was waiting to see how the third vote on Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement plays out.

Plans on how to deal with the Irish Border issue in the event of a no-deal Brexit are to be discussed urgently between the European Commission and Irish Government officials. This comes after EU leaders at Friday’s European summit raised the need to protect the single market if the UK crashes out of the union without a deal. Several senior EU and Irish sources said there was a desire that the issue be prioritised immediately.

They acknowledged preparations now needed to be intensified, but stressed EU leaders were also committed to keeping an open border in Ireland and protecting the Belfast Agreement.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said that the only way to avoid problems arising in the event of a hard border would be to have regulatory alignment.

Mr Varadkar said there is a “sketch” now of what would be needed if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal in the coming months.

“It is very rough and very preliminary but as I have always indicated, if we ended up in a no-deal scenario we would have to have some difficult discussions with the European Commission and also with the UK Government as to how we can avoid a hard border in a no-deal scenario. That is not easy,” he said.

‘Alignment’

“First of all we would expect the British government to stand by its commitments under the Good Friday Agreement as we will. We would also expect the British government to stand by its commitments in the December 2017 declaration where they agreed that they would retain full regulatory alignment with the European Union if that was necessary to avoid a hard border.

“We know from the UK government’s own plans that if we did end up in a no-deal scenario in a few weeks time that they would treat Northern Ireland separately from day one.”

Mr Varadkar said the “more you get into” planning to avoid a hard border “the more and more it looks very like the backstop”. The backstop, an insurance policy agreed by the EU and UK to avoid a hard Irish border, has been one of the main sources of objection from MPs, including the DUP, who have opposed Mrs May’s deal in the House of Commons.

The Taoiseach also said space was being made for the UK to change its position on Brexit if the third vote on the deal fails.

“If they reject it for a third time then space is being created for them to put forward alternatives, things that might supersede it,” Mr Varadkar said. “For example, deciding that the United Kingdom as a whole may stay in the customs union, deciding that they might join the European Economic Area like Norway for example. We are just going to have to see how things develop over the next couple of weeks.”