Merkel plans flying visit to Dublin to discuss Border concerns

Varadkar to meet Macron in Paris on Tuesday

German chancellor Angela Merkel, who plans to meet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin next Thursday. Photograph: Eva Plevier/Reuters

German chancellor Angela Merkel, who plans to meet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin next Thursday. Photograph: Eva Plevier/Reuters

 

German chancellor Angela Merkel is to visit Dublin next Thursday as Brexit goes down to the wire.

The German leader’s one-day visit was announced on Friday morning and comes amid growing pressure on the Government to clarify how the Border question will be addressed in the event of a no-deal Brexit in the coming weeks.

Ahead of the visit Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will travel to Paris on Tuesday for talks with the French President Emmanuel Macron. Officials said the two men would discuss Brexit issues, including no-deal planning as well as the future of Europe agenda.

On the Merkel visit, a Berlin spokesman said: “The visit is the message”. Another official in Berlin said: “This is not a social call.”

Irish officials insist the visit is a positive signal and a welcome show of political backing from Europe’s most powerful leader. But given Dr Merkel is a rare visitor to Irish shores – her last visit was part of a European People’s Party (EPP) meeting in 2014 – her return now is an indication of the gravity of the situation facing the island of Ireland.

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The visit will be brief: talks with Mr Varadkar and a joint press appearance. Unlike other visitors from Germany, no trip is planned to the Border.

“There are urgent issues to discuss,” said a Berlin official. “Such visits only happen when they have a reason.”

On Brexit, Mr Varadkar has conceded “robust engagements” with EU leaders on the border question and admits there are difficult questions yet to be answered.

Leading these discussions has been the German chancellor, who has repeatedly quizzed Mr Varadkar on the Irish Border at EU meetings. Along with other EU leaders, she has reminded him that a UK departure from the EU without any agreement means no backstop arrangement.

“I am not under any pressure from chancellor Merkel or anyone else on this issue,” Mr Varadkar insisted at the weekend on RTÉ radio, insisting the German leader merely asked “reasonable questions”.

Key among them is what Dublin plans to do about the hard outer EU border that will run through the island in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

Dr Merkel raised the issue of the Irish Border during the European Council meeting last Thursday evening in Brussels. She noted the difficulties of protecting the Belfast Agreement in a no-deal situation, said sources familiar with the notes of the meeting.

Mr Varadkar said Ireland would seek to “uphold the Good Friday Agreement, keep the border with Northern Ireland open and still fulfil our obligations in European treaties to protect the single market and make sure Ireland is still fully a member of the single market and that the Border doesn’t become a backdoor to the single market”.

If there has been no breakthrough in London before next Thursday, how he plans to make all three happen simultaneously will be the focus during the German leader’s visit. Government sources said that there was no question of a last minute change to the withdrawal agreement, specifically ruling out any changes to the backstop, which might unlock a majority for the agreement at Westminster.

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