Wednesday 23 October 2019

Businesses must try to plan for next year despite huge uncertainty, says Taoiseach

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar greets Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as they attend the ASEM leaders summit in Brussels yesterday. PHOTO: YVES HERMAN
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar greets Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as they attend the ASEM leaders summit in Brussels yesterday. PHOTO: YVES HERMAN
John Downing

John Downing

Business leaders must start planning for next year with huge uncertainty about Brexit, the Taoiseach has admitted.

Leo Varadkar said that while politicians can always make "late-night and last-minute decisions", businesses soon had to make plans for the upcoming business quarter.

He was speaking after an EU summit yielded no progress on ending the deadlock on the Irish Border arrangements which are blocking a deal.

The Taoiseach effectively confirmed a small element of progress on the so-called Border backstop which would keep the North inside the EU customs union and close to the single market.

And it is now clear that British Prime Minister Theresa May is no longer insisting on a time-limit, with an expiry date to be attached to such an arrangement.

Mr Varadkar told reporters that the EU, the UK and Ireland all accepted that the backstop would effectively be "temporary". It would apply only until a better arrangement was found via an EU-UK trade deal after Brexit.

"But it can't have an expiry date," the Taoiseach insisted.

Mrs May has insisted she is convinced she will get a deal on the UK's withdrawal from the EU, despite the summit passing with no sign of a breakthrough.

But Mrs May infuriated MPs from all sides of her party by indicating she is ready to delay the UK's final departure from EU structures until 2021 in the hope of breaking the deadlock over the Border.

Mr Varadkar said he accepted that the October deadline for a Brexit deal will not be met and talks will continue in the coming weeks. A deal was still possible in November, there would be a regular summit in December, but things could drift on beyond that point.

He noted that the negotiators will continue their work, but a special summit will not be called for November unless there is genuine hope of a deal - or talks have broken down and "no-deal" arrangements need to be agreed.

He said the idea of extending the negotiating period was "floated" some time ago. It would need the UK to seek this extension, and all member states to agree it, and he had no comment to make about it.

The Taoiseach also said the idea of all of the UK taking out membership of the EU customs union, with links to the single market, were a matter for talks on a long-term trade deal. The Northern Ireland backstop must stand in the interim and the EU must protect the single market.

He said he had brought a newspaper report on killings at a Border post in the 1970s to the summit. This was to show fellow leaders he was not exaggerating the threat of violence if Border checks returned.

In the wake of the summit failure, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe tried to strike a positive note.

He said proceedings showed the EU leaders' determination that an agreement must be found and chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, was empowered to continue his work.

"While the risks are growing, I do believe an agreement is possible and we're very clear what we need in that agreement, in ensuring there is a backstop in place that is legally operable.

"And the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister [Helen] McEntee, with the support of all of Government, will continue with our work to deliver that on behalf of the island," Mr Donohoe said.

Irish Independent

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