Monday 21 August 2017

Taoiseach raises prospect of UK row-back on Brexit plan

Prime Minister Theresa May meets new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar inside 10 Downing Street, London. Photo: PA
Prime Minister Theresa May meets new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar inside 10 Downing Street, London. Photo: PA

Cormac McQuinn and Niall O'Connor

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has raised the prospect of the UK dramatically rowing back on its decision to leave the European Union.

At a behind-closed-doors meeting in Downing Street, Mr Varadkar told his counterpart Theresa May that his "heart breaks" over the decision by the UK to leave the EU.

The Fine Gael leader described the move as a "tragedy", telling Mrs May the door is "firmly open" if the UK changes its mind.

Mr Varadkar followed French President Emmanuel Macron by raising the prospect of the UK shelving its Brexit plans.

Meanwhile, Mrs May said she doesn't want Brexit to harm the Republic of Ireland, in her first meeting with Mr Varadkar.

Mrs May highlighted the level of trade between the UK and Ireland and the 400,000 jobs that it supports.

Leo Varadkar won Theresa May’s backing for our bid to host the Rugby World Cup
Leo Varadkar won Theresa May’s backing for our bid to host the Rugby World Cup

She said "no one wants to see this diminish" and the close relationship between the UK and Ireland should be maintained.

Mrs May added: "I'm personally committed to ensuring a practical solution that recognises the unique economic, social, cultural and political context of the land Border with Ireland which so many people pass through every day."

She said she wants the Border to be "as frictionless and seamless" as possible. And she added: "We want to maintain the common travel area to make sure the UK's withdrawal from the EU does not harm the Republic of Ireland."

Reciprocal rights between the two countries, including those guaranteed under the Good Friday Agreement, are also a priority, Mrs May said.

Mr Varadkar said he would prefer if the UK stayed in the EU but that people must respect the decision to leave.

He said: "It's a matter of regret to us that the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, the single market and the customs union. We would prefer it was not so but this is a sovereign decision for the people of the United Kingdom.

"What we want to do is to try to bring about an outcome for a new set of relationships between the United Kingdom and the European Union that allows trade to continue as it has done in the past."

Both leaders expressed their hope that the parties in Northern Ireland will re-establish the power-sharing executive by the June 29 deadline.

Mrs May, meanwhile, said her Conservative Party is continuing its talks with the DUP in relation to agreeing to a confidence and supply arrangement in Westminster.

She said that regardless of this process, the UK government "remains absolutely steadfast in our commitment to the Belfast Agreement and to the successor agreements".

Mr Varadkar has previously expressed concerns about Mrs May's party becoming too close to the DUP and he confirmed he raised the issue at the meeting.

"I was very reassured by what the prime minister had to say that the agreement, once it's reached, will be published so it will be there for everyone to see.

"We spoke about the very important need for both governments to be impartial actors when it comes to Northern Ireland and also that we are co-guarantors in the Good Friday Agreement and that any agreement that may exist between the Conservative party and the DUP should not in any way impact on the Good Friday Agreement or the special role that both governments have when it comes to impartiality when it comes to the terms of the agreement.

"The formation of the government is a matter for the MPs elected to Westminster and not for our Government, but I am very reassured by the meeting today," Mr Varadkar said.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach also floated the idea of special arrangements on immigration for major sporting events.

Mr Varadkar also secured Mrs May's support for Ireland's bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Irish Independent

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