'Ireland first' ahead of other issues in Brexit negotiations - Donald Tusk in Dublin
European Council President Donald Tusk has said that Ireland's concerns over Brexit will come first in EU-UK negotiations.
"If in London someone assumes that the negotiations will deal with other issues first, before moving to the Irish issue, my response would be: Ireland first," he said.
Mr Tusk is in Dublin meeting with the Taoiseach ahead of a crucial EU summit in Brussels on March 22.
He spoke about the failure so far from the UK to come up with a plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland, or create a “solution” to Brexit.
And said this was hampering progress.
"As long as the UK doesn't present such a solution, it is very difficult to imagine substantive progress in Brexit negotiations", he said following the meeting.
Mr Tusk also said that while the EU respects the result of the Brexit referendum, the same should be said for the British in respecting the Irish vote for the Good Friday Agreement.
"We must recognise the democratic decision taken by Britain to leave the EU in 2016, just as we must recognise the democratic decision made on the island of Ireland in 1998 with all its consequences", said the former Polish Prime Minister.
"The risk of destabilising the fragile peace process must be avoided at all costs. So we will be firm on this", he added.
Meanwhile the Taoiseach called for "certainty" from London regarding how it plans to protect the border and how it sees its future relationship with Brussels.
He said if the UK doesn’t come up with workable, practical plans in solving the border issue, then the backstop agreement from December should apply.
This would require Northern Ireland maintaining regulatory alignment in compliance with the Single Market, while keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union.
Brexit is due to happen in March 2019.
"We must have certainty that if a better option proves unachievable the backstop of maintaining full alignment in Northern Ireland - with those rules of the single market and the customs union - will apply in order to protect North South cooperation and avoid a hard border", said Mr Varadkar.