Varadkar open to extending Brexit grace period if it helps resolve NI protocol row

Tánaiste does not envisage gardaí policing parts of NI or PSNI policing parts of State

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar speaks to the media during a visit to InterTradeIreland’s offices in Newry, Co Down. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar speaks to the media during a visit to InterTradeIreland’s offices in Newry, Co Down. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he would have no objection to the Brexit grace period being extended beyond the end of September if it would assist in resolving the dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol.

During a two-day visit to the North this week, Mr Varadkar again heard about unionist opposition to the protocol when he met DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie. He also met senior Sinn Féin and SDLP politicians and business leaders from the region.

The second grace period, which allows most but not all goods to shift reasonably smoothly across the Irish Sea, is scheduled to run out at the end of this month.

Business leaders have warned that if the British government and European Union are unable to resolve their differences over the protocol before that deadline, there will be further and more major disruption to trade between Britain and the North.

Such a situation also would be likely to further inflame unionist and loyalist opposition to the protocol, which was designed to ensure there would be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Tolerate

During a visit to the InterTradeIreland offices in Newry on Thursday, Mr Varadkar said he would prefer the issue to be settled before October 1st, but that he could, if necessary, tolerate another extension of the grace period.

“I certainly wouldn’t have any objection to the grace period being extended. But the difficulty with that, of course, is it doesn’t solve the underlying issues or the underlying difficulties. It just puts things off,” he said.

“Certainly my impression from (meeting) Jeffrey Donaldson this morning is that that wouldn’t be an acceptable outcome for them anyway, whatever about the other parties.”

The Tánaiste continued: “It would be preferable, I think, to come to an agreement. But obviously if more time is needed to find time to make that agreement or ratify any agreements that might happen, I think that that would be reasonable to do so. We don’t object to that but it’s not the solution.”

Mr Varadkar was also asked about the controversial report published this week about future policing in south Armagh. One of its 50 recommendations was that police services in the North and the Republic should be allowed to pursue suspects across the Border.

‘Internal matter’

The Fine Gael leader said he had not had an opportunity to read the full report yet but that “policing in Northern Ireland is an internal matter” and an issue for the Northern Executive and Assembly.

“I’m very much in favour of further cooperation between the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, but I certainly don’t envisage gardaí policing parts of Northern Ireland, or the PSNI policing parts of the Republic,” he said.

“What we don’t need really is hot pursuit in either direction,” added Mr Varadkar. “What we need is very close cooperation between the PSNI and the Garda Síochána so that if somebody is heading for the Border you can then inform the police service on the other side very quickly, and they are able to intercept them. I think that’s probably the best approach.”