May can't get 'too close' to DUP – Varadkar
New Taoiseach to stress role of governments in agreement
Incoming Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that the British government cannot be "too close" to any party in Northern Ireland if it is to fulfil its commitments under the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Varadkar said the governments in Dublin and London need to "recognise" their unique responsibilities under the agreement and that he will be reminding Theresa May of these when they speak.
It comes as DUP leader Arlene Foster announced she intends to travel to Dublin later this week to meet with Mr Varadkar, once he is officially elected as Taoiseach.
Mrs Foster is understood to be keen to brief the Fine Gael leader on her party's Brexit position and discuss the political stalemate in Northern Ireland.
Sources said the two politicians have a good relationship from their various meetings at North-South Ministerial Council gatherings.
Mr Varadkar's strong warning to the British prime minister about the need to put the Good Friday Agreement ahead of her own political ambitions is also likely to form part of the meeting.
"Our role as governments is to act as co-guarantors, not to be too close to any particular party in the North, whether it's nationalist parties or unionist parties. That's certainly something I will emphasise in any contacts that I have with Prime Minister May," Mr Varadkar said yesterday.
He was speaking after Taoiseach Enda Kenny raised "concerns" about Mrs May's decision to ask the DUP to prop up a minority government.
The interventions from the Irish Government are understood to have caused some irritation among British officials - but has not dented Mrs May's plans to formally agree a deal with the DUP today.
Former Ulster Unionist MP and life peer John Taylor claimed that Mr Kenny's comments were "offensive" to the people of the UK.
"He should keep his nose out of internal UK politics. Mr Kenny has some cheek in opposing a role for the DUP, when the DUP has shared government with Sinn Féin and is prepared to continue to do so," said Mr Taylor. "In contrast, Mr Kenny refuses to share power in Dublin with Sinn Féin. He has proved himself to be a man of double standards."
Despite the concerns, Mr Varadkar said he also sees potential from the 'confidence and supply' arrangement based on the DUP's vision for a soft Brexit.
"They [the DUP] want to maintain the common travel area and want to maintain free trade between these islands, and Britain and Europe. So I do think there's an opportunity to soften Brexit. But that all remains to be seen," Mr Varadkar said.
Likewise, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said he believed any role by the DUP in the UK government "may play in our direction" when it came to Brexit.
"It seems to me the DUP would have the same Brexit interests on the island of Ireland as we would have, and, as a consequence, they may be a strong influence to soften Brexit from what seemed to have been intention of some of the right wing of the Conservative party," he said.
Arts Minister Heather Humphreys, who is from the Border region, revealed that she spoke with Mrs Foster and was upbeat about the prospect of a softer Brexit that could see a frictionless Border remain between the North and the Republic.
"I was in Northern Ireland yesterday and Arlene Foster did say that she hopes there will be a softer Brexit. That's so important to those of us who live right on the Border because thousands of people travel over and back to whatever side of the Border they are working on.
"That is so important to us as is trade and the peace process is absolute priority for the Government," Ms Humphreys said.
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