Monday 16 September 2019

'Brexit will go on for years' even if UK crashes out, warns Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking to media, after touring Hillsborough Castle in Hillsborough, Northern Ireland. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking to media, after touring Hillsborough Castle in Hillsborough, Northern Ireland. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Kevin Doyle in Belfast

Brexit negotiations are set to dominate our political landscape for "several years" even if the UK crashes out on October 31, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned.

In a message clearly aimed at UK politicians who believe leaving the EU will be the end of the process, Mr Varadkar warned Brexit will go "on and on and on for many, many years".

As both London and Brussels refused to cede any ground in the less-than-diplomatic stand-off, the Taoiseach insisted the UK will not be able to get a free trade agreement with the EU unless issues around the Irish Border are resolved.

On a visit to Belfast, Mr Varadkar said talks on a future trading relationship would still not begin until matters in the current withdrawal deal - such as citizens' rights, the financial settlement and the Irish Border - are dealt with.

"Brexit isn't a storm that we weather or a severe weather event that we prepare for, it is a permanent change in relations between the European Union, including Ireland, and the United Kingdom. I think that needs to be borne in mind," Mr Varadkar said.

He admitted a no-deal scenario is increasingly likely at Halloween - but said it was not inevitable.

It came on a day when the Irish Government appeared to be reaching out to its UK counterparts including the DUP and the leadership of Boris Johnson's Conservative Party - but ultimately zero progress was made.

While Mr Varadkar attended a number of events in Northern Ireland, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe travelled to Westminster to meet newly appointed Chancellor Sajid Javid.

Paschal Donohoe and the UK’s Chancellor Sajid Javid. Photo: REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Paschal Donohoe and the UK’s Chancellor Sajid Javid. Photo: REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

The European Commission also repeated its willingness to discuss Brexit with the new UK government, although Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he won't enter talks until the Irish backstop is scrapped.

"The commission does remain available over the coming weeks should the United Kingdom wish to hold talks and clarify its position in more detail, whether by phone or in person," an EU spokesperson said.

However, Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who is in charge of no-deal preparations, said he was "deeply saddened" by the EU position, which was "not in Europe's interests".

The latest exchanges followed reports from Brussels that EU officials had concluded that Mr Johnson's new government had no intention of negotiating and that its "central scenario" was a no-deal break on October 31.

Following a meeting of the UK's Brexit "war cabinet", Mr Gove insisted the government was ready to engage in talks in a "spirit of friendliness".

However, he said the EU side had to accept a new approach was essential after Mrs May's agreement was rejected three times by Parliament.

"We need a new approach and we stand ready to engage with the European Union, to negotiate in good faith to make sure that we can have a friendly relationship in the future," he said.

"We will put all our energy into making sure that we can secure that good deal but at the moment it is the EU that seems to be saying it is not interested.

"It is simply saying 'No, we don't want to talk'. I think that is wrong and sad. It is not in Europe's interests."

Mr Varadkar restated his invitation for the new prime minister to visit Dublin to discuss the Brexit impasse, Northern Ireland and Anglo-Irish relations.

The Taoiseach said Ireland was still in discussions with the European Commission on what form customs and regulatory checks would take in the event of a no-deal.

"We are going to tell people - citizens and businesses - when we know," he said.

After welcoming Mr Varadkar to Belfast, the DUP later issued a statement accusing Ireland and the EU of displaying an "intransigent attitude".

Irish Independent

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