Taoiseach says Government may have to negotiate a no-deal deal in event of Brexit
Varadkar facing limited options if EU’s draft withdrawal deal with UK cannot be ratified
As nervous preparations continue for Sunday’s summit of European leaders, the British prime minister Theresa May left Brussels last night after meeting European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker reporting “good progress” on outstanding issues.
However, she said she would return on Saturday for further talks in advance of the summit as there were “some further issues that need resolution”.
Mrs May and Mr Juncker were discussing the political declaration on the future relationship between the EU and UK – a document which will accompany the withdrawal treaty agreed last week and which European leaders will formally agree on Sunday.
But while the treaty is legally binding, the declaration is only a basis for future negotiation.
On Northern Ireland, the political declaration is now expected to include language on the Border that will reflect Mrs May’s promise to explore technological solutions as an alternative to the backstop, which has proven controversial with eurosceptics in the Conservative Party and with the DUP.
The withdrawal agreement, in both the draft produced in March and in its final form, allows for “alternative arrangements” to ensure the Border remains open.
London is playing up the formula and high-level sources said that the EU side was likely to give Mrs May whatever assistance it could. But Government sources in Dublin insisted that the declaration did not affect the legally binding backstop in the withdrawal treaty.
Amid fears that Mrs May will be unable to secure parliamentary backing for her deal with the EU, attention in Brussels and Dublin is turning to the consequences of a “no-deal” Brexit at the end of March.
The Taoiseach yesterday told the Dáil that “no one knows for sure what would happen if there was one”.
“It is my view that if we did end up with a no-deal situation, we would find ourselves having to negotiate a ‘no-deal deal’ quite soon thereafter. A no-deal situation might continue for a few weeks; it might not last more than a few weeks.”
Mr Varadkar indicated that while the Government would not prepare to erect border infrastructure, it would have to intensify preparations for a no-deal outcome.
“It certainly could be a disastrous few weeks,” he said. “That is why we must think about these things.”
He said that Ireland would be obliged to “protect the single market” but would have to do this without the erection of a hard border.
“I think that in a no-deal scenario we would find ourselves having to come up with a deal,” Mr Varadkar told TDs.
“We would have to come to some kind of agreement on regulations and customs to avoid a hard border in order that the UK honour its obligations as a member of the WTO and that we continue to honour our obligations as an EU member. The point I was making is that if we had no deal, we would find ourselves having to find a deal very quickly.”
The Taoiseach also said the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin “totally misunderstands” the DUP by telling the party that the deal represents the “best of both worlds”.
“It is not the best of both worlds the DUP wants,” Mr Varadkar said. “The DUP holds very firm to the view that the most important thing is the integrity of the United Kingdom, the precious union. If this means a lesser world, that is acceptable provided that the integrity of the union is upheld.”
The Taoiseach was also very critical of Sinn Féin’s efforts to secure a border poll.
“Special arrangements in respect of customs and regulations for industrial goods should not be seen as a constitutional threat,” he said. “When people start to talk about Border polls, however, it really undermines the work we are trying to do to convince people that that is not what this is about.”