Irish must negotiate ‘very hard’ next year to protect fisheries – Varadkar

Ireland would negotiate for ‘decent portion’ of €5bn Brexit impact fund in EU budget

British  prime minister Boris Johnson with Leo Varadkar, then the taoiseach and now Tánaiste, at Government Buildings during the former’s visit to Dublin in September 2019. Mr Varadkar has said Ireland had been saved from “what could have been a very rough Brexit and now is going to be a relatively soft one”, after the UK and EU reached a post-Brexit trade agreement. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

British prime minister Boris Johnson with Leo Varadkar, then the taoiseach and now Tánaiste, at Government Buildings during the former’s visit to Dublin in September 2019. Mr Varadkar has said Ireland had been saved from “what could have been a very rough Brexit and now is going to be a relatively soft one”, after the UK and EU reached a post-Brexit trade agreement. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the settlement around fishing rights reached today between the UK and EU was “always going to be the most difficult aspect of this deal”.

Speaking outside Government Buildings on Thursday evening after crunch UK-EU talks to avert a no-deal Brexit scenario ended in success on Christmas Eve, he said the agreement was “as good a deal as could be negotiated in the circumstances for fisheries”.

“One thing we’re going to have to do is negotiate very hard in the New Year to make sure that there’s fair burden-sharing across Europe, that Irish fishermen aren’t disproportionately affected,” he said.

“Bear in mind we have been taking 35 per cent of the fish that we land, we’ve been taking it from British waters for a very long time now, when Britain left the European Union they took their waters with them,” he said.

“So what we were facing was losing 80 per cent of that quota, it looks now like it’s going to be more like 25 per cent, and we will retain access to UK waters for at least another five and a half years,” he said.

Ireland would be negotiating to receive “a decent portion” of a €5 billion fund in the EU budget allocated to respond to the impacts of Brexit, which in part would be put towards supporting industries such as fisheries, he said.

‘Door is always open’

The Fine Gael leader said he felt any potential return of the UK to the EU in the future was “unlikely”, but added the “door is always open”.

“I think now they’ve decided to leave, they’re gone and we need to accept that, and try to strengthen bilateral relations,” he said.

Despite the threat of a no-deal Brexit being avoided, Irish businesses would still face extra customs, checks and bureaucracy in trading with the UK, he said.

Ireland had been saved from “what could have been a very rough Brexit and now is going to be a relatively soft one”, he added.

“I think back to four years ago, when the Brexit referendum happened, when the UK voted to leave, we had enormous concerns at that time as to what a hard Brexit might do. It might have resulted in a hard border North and South; it might have undermined the Good Friday Agreement, might have undermined the Common Travel Area with Britain, might have undermined our position in the single market, and might have resulted in Irish farmers, and exporters and industry, facing tariffs on trade with Britain, and all of that has been avoided.”

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