Taoiseach welcomes Theresa May’s promise on Border
Emphasis on no physical infrastructure after Brexit is ‘strong statement’, says Varadkar
Britain’s prime minister Theresa May welcomes Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to number 10 Downing Street prior to their meeting on Monday. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA
The Taoiseach has welcomed Theresa May’s promise that Britain will not place any physical infrastructure on the Border after Brexit, but said there was not yet enough progress in negotiations to start talking about a future trade deal between Britain and the European Union. Speaking in Downing Street after a meeting with the British prime minister, Leo Varadkar praised her speech in Florence last Friday, singling out her commitment on the Border.
“I think that’s very important. It’s a little bit more than saying you don’t want the borders of the past or a hard border. Saying there will be no physical infrastructure is a very strong statement,” he said.
“Of course, I pointed out that the way I believe you can best achieve that is for the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, to stay in some form of customs union and some form of single market with the European Union.”
Monday’s meeting, the third between the two leaders since Mr Varadkar took office, was the first opportunity Ms May has had to discuss her Florence speech face-to-face with any EU leader. The Taoiseach said that although he did not believe sufficient progress had been made in the Brexit negotiations to move onto the second phase of talks in Brussels, that could change by the time EU leaders make the decision next month.
“Certainly we will be very much guided by the report that Michel Barnier will make to the prime ministers and also the report of the European Parliament. So I don’t think at this stage it would be possible to say that sufficient progress has been made, but it may well be possible by the end of October when we meet in Brussels,” he said.
A Downing Street spokesperson said the prime minister thanked the Taoiseach for the welcome he gave her Florence speech, adding that they had discussed her proposal for a transitional period of up to two years after Brexit during which the trading relationship would remain unchanged.
The two leaders also discussed the efforts to restore devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, and the Taoiseach said he believed the focus should remain on encouraging the parties to resolve their differences.
“Both of us are very much of the view that what’s required here is that the DUP and Sinn Féin come together and come to an agreement to restore the institutions and to get the Executive and the Assembly back up,” he said.
“In the past, that has required external interventions, but we think at this stage the most important thing is that the DUP and Sinn Féin come together to give Northern Ireland a devolved government and give Northern Ireland a unique voice when it comes to Brexit, which is something that I think would be very important. Neither of us at this stage are contemplating the failure of the talks. We don’t see any particular advantage in having another election in Northern Ireland and I expressed the very strong view of the Government in Ireland that we wouldn’t favour a return to direct rule.”