Irish desire for close UK ties after Brexit not shared across EU - Varadkar

Leaders meet in Brussels to discuss moving British withdrawal process on to second phase

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says that there are "quite divergent opinions" among EU leaders on the union's future relationship with the United Kingdom post-Brexit. Video: EU Council


Not all EU countries share Ireland’s desire for a close relationship with the UK after Brexit, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Speaking on Friday on his way into the second day of a European Council summit in Brussels, he said there will need to be “a lot of thinking” on the EU side about the type of future relationship the bloc will have with the UK.

“There does seem to be quite divergent opinions on what that should look like. Needless to say from an Irish point of view, we’d like it look as much like the current relationship as possible, but that wouldn’t necessarily be the view of everyone,” the Taoiseach said.

EU leaders will discuss the second phase of the Brexit negotiations today in the absence of the British prime minister Theresa May, who flew back to London after the leaders’ working dinner ended on Friday morning after 1am.

On reports that Ms May received a round of applause at the dinner, the Taoiseach said: “Theresa May gave a report, basically giving her outline of where things stood. There wasn’t a round table discussion because that’s not permitted under article 50. But, you know, a few people offered some encouraging remarks some good luck remarks, Merry Christmas-type remarks and there was a light round of applause after that.”

Northern Ireland

He said that he and Ms May had a brief discussion during a bilateral meeting before the dinner in which they agreed on another effort to resuscitate the Northern Ireland executive in the new year.

“We agreed we would speak in the new year, both about another attempt to get the Northern executive up and running and the phase two talks and I expressed my wish that we should proceed quickly to start talking about issues such as trade in particular. And she agreed with that,” Mr Varadkar said.

Asked if he thought Brexit could be delayed or reversed, he said: “That’s entirely a matter for the British parliament and the British people.”

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker warned that the second phase of the talks, dealing with the transition to a post-Brexit relationship between the UK and EU, would be “considerably harder than the first - and the first was very hard”.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said the prime minister had made a good case for them to declare on Friday that talks on the divorce issues of citizens’ rights, the Irish Border and the UK’s £39 billion exit bill had made “sufficient progress” to move on to the second phase.

“There remains much work to do and time is pressing.”

Divorce deal

With Mr Juncker and chief negotiator Michel Barnier having already declared that last week’s divorce deal amounted to “sufficient progress”, and the European Parliament overwhelmingly backing this verdict on Wednesday, the decision on Brexit is little more than a formality expected to be approved in short order by the EU27.

At Thursday’s dinner meeting, EU leaders also agreed to rollover sanctions on Russia, imposed because of its military action in the Ukraine. There was also a discussion on Jerusalem, following US president Donald Trump’s pledge to more move the US embassy there, and the leaders agreed that the EU embassy would remain in Tel Aviv.

The leaders also had discussions on the migration crisis in southern Europe and the Mercosaur trade agreement.

The first item on Friday’s agenda is the reform of the eurozone, the Taoiseach said. The EU’s economy is in a very strong position, he said.

“The euro is strong, inflation is low, economies are growing in Europe, and unemployment is falling. But we can’t be complacent about that.”

Leaders would discuss a banking union he said, “guaranteeing people’s savings and deposits across the European Union, so that if a bank collapses or runs into trouble in one European country, we’ll all stand together to protect the savings and deposits of the people who put their money into it. And that’s something that we’d be very much in favour of in Ireland.”