Varadkar criticises Fianna Fáil for dragging out Government talks

Taoiseach accuses Opposition party of delaying confidence and supply review

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar  addressing the delegates at Fine Gael Ardfheis. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw /The Irish Times

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addressing the delegates at Fine Gael Ardfheis. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw /The Irish Times

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has criticised Fianna Fáil for its approach to the confidence and supply review, accusing the main Opposition party of dragging the talks out.

In a wide-ranging interview with This Week on RTÉ Radio 1, Mr Varadkar also said that avoiding a hard border would be very difficult, but not impossible, in the event of a no deal on Brexit.

“I am not planning an early election. We do have a difficulty though in that the confidence and supply agreement which was for three budgets has expired.

“In common parlance we are now out of contract.

“It does create problems. We already see in the Dáil and Seanad important reforming legislation is being held up and the pace of progress is slower than I would like it to be.

“I would like us to agree (with Fianna Fáil) that this government would continue and we would not have an election until summer of 2020.”

He denied Fine Gael was manufacturing a crisis with a series of disparaging remarks at its weekend Ardfheis about Fianna Fáil’s attitude to the talks.

He did accuse Fianna Fáil of delay: “My sense is that rather than resolving this . . . Fianna Fáil is dragging it out a bit.

“I have no doubt that if both parties wanted to do it we could do it in a weekend.”

Tax promise

Mr Varadkar accepted that his promise at the ardfheis to raise the threshold for the higher rate of tax to €50,000 over five years would cost €3. 2 billion but said that would involve only devoting a quarter of additional resources to tax reductions.

He denied it would favour the rich, saying it would be designed for middle-income tax payers. He also argued that if the Government did nothing, more and more people would fall into the higher tax next each year, as they received increments, and pay increases, that would bring their income to more than €34,000.

Turning to Brexit, the Taoiseach said a hard border was not inevitable in the event of a No deal but would be very difficult.

He said there were many ways in which a hard border could be avoided. He cited the UK staying in a customs union, a Northern Ireland-specific backstop which would be a Canada Plus scenario, and a Norway Plus where the whole of the UK would stay in the single market and in the customs union.

‘Divided’

Asked if the consequences of Irish success in achieving all its red lines was it would be more difficult to get the deal through in Britain, he said: “It was always difficult to get a deal through. It is evident to me that politics in Britain is very divided.

“Even if there was second referendum what would the question be? Would it be remain or leave? Or would it be deal or no deal?

“They are in a very difficult situation but sadly one they have put themselves in.”

He said a majority of the Labour party supported remaining in the EU but they had a leader “who is a hard Brexiteer himself”.

“I actually wonder if anyone who is actually against this has a majority for anything else,” he asked.

He was asked about former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab’s claim yesterday that the Taoiseach made public and misrepresented a confidential conversation Mr Raab had with Simon Coveney.

“I don’t know Dominic Raab, never met him, never spoke to him.

“I don’t know anything about this conversation he had with Simon Coveney. I can only imagine that Simon Coveney maintained his confidence. My dealings are with prime minister (Theresa) May.

“When it comes to double-dealing and back-stabbing and negative briefing and intrigue and all that kind of thing it is not something in our playbook.”