Taoiseach optimistic Brexit deal can be done by October deadline

Leo Varadkar says rather than ‘stalling’, negotiations need to ‘intensify’ in period ahead

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has expressed optimism that a final agreement on Britain's withdrawal from the EU could be concluded by the October deadline.

Mr Varadkar said they were not going to conclude the agreement by the EU Council meeting at the end of this month “and that was never going to be the case”.

But he said “the deadline is October and I do think it is possible between now and October for us to finalise and negotiate that withdrawal agreement”.

The Taoiseach said that at the June summit, “the EU 27 states that are staying at the heart of Europe will assess progress and while there has been some progress, I certainly can’t say at this stage that it is sufficient.”


But he said that “rather than stalling things, we need to intensify negotiations in the period ahead”.

He expressed disappointment that Britain's white paper on Brexit would not be published in advance of the June summit meeting of EU leaders but said it was "not entirely surprising".

The white paper “is all about how the United Kingdom sees its new relationship with the EU. So two years after the referendum, less than a year from Brexit, we still don’t know how they see that new relationship and that is a real problem.”

The delay in the white paper did not in itself create problems for the October deadline because what they needed to get done by then was the withdrawal agreement including the Irish backstop, the Irish protocol, he said.

“The white paper is very much about the new relationship that will exist between the UK and the EU into the future and it may well take the entire transition period to negotiate that if not longer,” he said.

Boris Johnson’s remarks

Mr Varadkar was speaking following a jobs announcement in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow.

He deflected questions about recent comments by British foreign secretary Boris Johnson including his remarks that concerns about the Border were being blown out of proportion and that not that many companies use the Border.

The Taoiseach said, “I can’t really concern myself about internal problems that might exist within the British government or disunity in the UK, what I can say is that the European Union is united”.

“We are united as a block of 27 member states who all fully support the text that we produced in March both in relation to the withdrawal agreement and the Irish protocol which gives us the guarantee we need that there won’t be a hard border on our island, not now and now ever.”

But he reiterated his welcome for the document produced by the British government. “It does represent a step forward and represents some new thinking around what the future customs arrangement between the UK and the EU may look like and certainly if we can resolve some or all the border issues that relate to Ireland through a UK-wide solution, that is something I am very enthusiastic about.”

Asked about comments by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier that the customs arrangements for the North could not be extended to cover the entire UK, Mr Varadkar said Mr Barnier’s comments were “common sense”.

The EU could make a special case for Northern Ireland because of its small size and unique history and geography. He said “what we want for Northern Ireland is for it to have the best of both worlds, to have the best of Ireland and the best of Britain”.

But “it isn’t realistic to apply such a scenario to all of the UK which has 60 million people and is a very big country”, he said.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times