Varadkar gives ‘cautious welcome’ to May’s Brexit speech

Taoiseach says ‘further clarity’ needed from the British prime minister

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has given a "cautious welcome" to the speech by British prime minister Theresa May in Florence, describing it as a "genuine effort by the prime minister to move things along".

However, senior officials said that concessions signalled in Ms May’s speech would have to be accompanied by a more detailed engagement from British negotiators when the two sides meet in Brussels next week.

Mr Varadkar said he was happy that Ms May had made reference to the Common Travel Area, the peace process and both governments’ wish to avoid “any physical infrastructure” at the Border.

“We will, of course, need further clarity and further understanding as to how a transition period might work,” he said.


Mr Varadkar said that Ms May’s request of a two-year transitional period was a “a step in the right direction”.

Irish officials had not expected such explicit reference to Irish concerns, though one source concluded that there was nothing new in her mention of the Border.

Mr Varadkar will meet Ms May in Downing Street on Monday for talks.

Speaking from New York, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney welcomed the "additional clarity" in Ms May's speech and said it was a "positive contribution towards making progress".

“The key thing now is that today’s comments by prime minister May are translated into deliverables across the negotiating table in Brussels,” Mr Coveney said.

Fianna Fáil Brexit spokesman Stephen Donnelly said that a hard Brexit was still on the table, "despite a change in prime minister May's tone". "Staying in the customs union remains off the table, and with that, a workable solution for an open Border with Northern Ireland, " he said.

Sinn Féin's Brexit spokesman David Cullinane said: "Theresa May's Brexit speech today was high on rhetoric, but short on detail.It does not deal with all of the key issues which impact on Ireland.

“It has not dealt with the issue of the potential of a border, it has not dealt with how the Good Friday Agreement will be protected and the rights of citizens in the North,” he said.

John McGrane, director of the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce said that business would welcome the news that the UK is to seek an implementation period during which it will adhere to current EU rules.

He said this was “critical if we are to avoid a disruption to UK-Ireland trade”.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times