Varadkar: EU can be flexible in Brexit negotiations if UK ‘softens some of its red lines’

Taoiseach warns that the EU could not compromise on fundamental principles of single market

Leo Varadkar: “We’re two years telling people that it can’t be cherrypicking – it can’t be cake and eat it.” Photograph: Eric Vidal/Reuters

Leo Varadkar: “We’re two years telling people that it can’t be cherrypicking – it can’t be cake and eat it.” Photograph: Eric Vidal/Reuters

 

The EU is willing to be more flexible in the Brexit negotiations, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said, but the UK needs to “soften some of its red lines” if there is to be any progress in the talks.

Mr Varadkar was speaking as he entered talks with EU leaders at the beginning of a two-day summit in Brussels on Thursday. But Mr Varadkar also warned that the EU could not compromise on the fundamental principles of the single market to make special arrangements for the British.

“We as Europe, the 27 member states, are willing to be more flexible,” Mr Varadkar said.

“But in order to be more flexible, the United Kingdom needs to soften some of its red lines. There are things that we just can’t compromise on.

“The four freedoms of the single market have to go together. You can’t have one freedom or two freedoms or three and a half freedoms. If we were ever to agree to that the European Union would start to break up and that is something that we can’t ever contemplate,” the Taoiseach said.

Mr Varadkar reiterated the EU’s opposition to the UK’s plan to take parts of the single market but not others, and also warned that any relationship between the EU and the UK in the future “isn’t going to be one of absolute equals”.

“We’re two years telling people that it can’t be cherrypicking – it can’t be cake and eat it,” Mr Varadkar said.

“[The UK] needs to understand that we’re a union of 27 member states, 500 million people. We have laws and rules and principles, and they can’t be changed for any one country, even a great country like Britain.

“Any relationship that exists in the future between the EU and the UK isn’t going to be one of absolute equals. We’re 27 members states, the UK is one country. We’re 500 million people, the UK is 60 million. That basic fact needs to be realised and understood,” he said.

Irish Border

Mr Varadkar and the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney had previously said that they had to see significant progress on the Irish Border issue by the time of the summit or the talks on a withdrawal agreement – due to conclude by October – would run into difficulty. EU leaders have repeatedly stressed that without a withdrawal agreement, there will be no transition period for the UK, and the British will leave the bloc in March of next year. If that happens, it would throw trade between the UK and the EU into chaos.

“The deadline for the withdrawal agreement has always been October and that has been the case since day one,” Mr Varadkar said.

“However, we did expect that we would make more progress, or any progress really, we expected there would be progress at this summit in June, like there was in March, like there was in December.

“There hasn’t been. So what I will be saying to prime minister May is that we all need to intensify our efforts now. All of us want there to be a deal. We need deal. Europe needs a deal, Britain needs a deal too.

“As we agreed back in December and in March, there can be no withdrawal agreement without an agreement on the Irish backstop,” he added.