Varadkar ‘contradicting everything we have been told’ about Brexit – Martin

Taoiseach in Davos warns soldiers may return to Irish Border

Speaking with Bloomberg TV, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that it incumbent upon the British government to come up with a solution after the current Brexit agreement was rejected by Westminster. Video: Bloomberg TV

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s raising the prospect of a return of soldiers to the Irish Border in a worst-case Brexit scenario has prompted criticism from the Opposition.

Speaking from the Swiss resort of Davos where he is attending the World Economic Forum, Mr Varadkar said in a no-deal scenario, a hard border “would involve customs posts, it would involve people in uniform and it may involve the need, for example, for cameras, physical infrastructure, possibly a police presence or army presence to back it up”.

“The problem with that in the context of Irish politics and history is those things become targets,” the Taoiseach told Bloomberg Television during an interview on Friday.

A Government spokesman later clarified that the Taoiseach was not referring to Irish personnel or infrastructure. He “was asked to describe a hard border, and gave a description of what it used to look like, and the risk of what it could look like in the worst-case scenario.”

The spokesman said Mr Varadkar was “not referring to personnel and the Irish Government has no plans to deploy infrastructure or personnel at the border”.

However, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said Mr Varadkar was contradicting what he and Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney had said previously about preparations.

“When the Taoiseach tells an audience in Davos that the Army may have to be sent to the border, he is contradicting everything that we have been told [by him and the Tánaiste] about preparations,” Mr Martin said.

“It is hard to see how this helps our case,” he added.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described Mr Varadkar’s comments as “reckless and irresponsible”.

She said they were “totally contrary” to Mr Varadkar’s previous assertions regarding the Government’s commitment to the backstop.

There is renewed focus on the backstop following the overwhelming defeat of British prime minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement with the EU in the House of Commons.

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The backstop was cited as one of the major issues of concern for MPs.

The backstop means, in the absence of another solution for the Irish Border, Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would effectively remain within the EU customs union, thus avoiding the return of a hard border.

Mrs May has vowed to seek concessions on the backstop, which is part of the agreement, in an effort to boost support for the deal.

The UK is due to leave the EU on March 29th.

However, Mr Varadkar on Friday offered little indication of being willing to compromise on the backstop and said Ireland was being victimised in the Brexit process.

He said Ireland had already compromised in the Brexit negotiations and that withdrawal of the UK from the EU was potentially going to cause a lot of harm to other countries.

Ireland and the EU had already made concessions and they would continue to “help” move the impasse forward, he said.

“We could work with a Norway-plus model. We could work with a Canada model with special arrangements for Northern Ireland,” Mr Varadkar said.

“But ultimately it’s the people who caused all this and started this who have to come up with the solutions."

‘Giving’

“We’re the ones already giving,” Mr Varadkar said. “The UK wanted a review clause in the backstop and we agreed to that, the UK wanted a UK-wide element, so why is it the country that is being victimised is the one that’s always asked to give?”

The Taoiseach said he had not yet seen any technologies that could solve the Border issue and said Ireland would not be giving up the backstop for a promise that it would be dealt with later.

“They [technologies] don’t exist and nobody has been able to show them to me," Mr Varadkar said 

“Why would we give up a legal guarantee and something we know will work in practice for a promise to sort it out later, or a promise to invent technologies? That’s just not a serious position.

“People who say they’re against a hard border and also against a backstop. That’s a contradiction.”

A Government source suggested the Taoiseach’s remarks came in the context of the Government’s growing frustration with how the UK is handling the situation.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, who is also in Davos, said on Friday he and the Taoiseach had received “nothing but support and solidarity” from EU political leaders on the Government’s insistence on an unlimited backstop.

Responding to questions from reporters, Mr Donohoe said “not one” of the EU finance ministers he spoke to suggested Ireland soften its line on the backstop.

Time limit

Mr Donohoe said this support “cuts to the heart of the political project of the European Union”.

“If a country is staying in the European Union, if we’re deeply committed to our future in the European Union, [then there is] the need for that country to have key political issues protected – and that’s a core element of the EU.”

Speaking in Cork on Friday, Mr Coveney said a solution needed to come from the UK.

“I think many people are trying to shift the focus away from London on to Dublin this week and I don’t think we should allow that to happen – solutions here need to come from where the problem is, which is London,” he said.

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