Monday 11 November 2019

Leo Varadkar cancels briefing of Opposition leaders on Brexit negotiations as talks enter crucial stage 

Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin
Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin

Philip Ryan and Cormac McQuinn

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has cancelled a briefing of Opposition leaders on the current state of play in Brexit negotiations. 

As talks went down to the wire in Brussels, the Taoiseach’s Office had informed party leaders they could expect an update on the negotiations later this evening. However, that will now not go ahead.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is flying to Brussels this evening, but it is understood he was to have been personally called by the Taoiseach.

The Government will need the support of Opposition parties to ensure a Brexit deal is passed through the Dáil.

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The Brexit briefing was offered to party leaders in advance of the current round of talks and the Taoiseach’s Office said it was intended to coincide with tomorrow’s European Council meeting.

Meanwhile, the Fianna Fáil leader warned that the kind of Brexit being pursued by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson could damage Ireland almost as much as a crash-out.

Mr Martin claimed it would bring 80pc of the damage of a no-deal scenario and said it would not be a successful conclusion to the negotiations "if this is the final outcome".

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, greets Tánaiste Simon Coveney during a meeting of EU General Affairs ministers, Article 50, at the European Convention Center in Luxembourg. Photo: AP Photo/Virginia Mayo
European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, greets Tánaiste Simon Coveney during a meeting of EU General Affairs ministers, Article 50, at the European Convention Center in Luxembourg. Photo: AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

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His remarks came after the Taoiseach gave an update to the Dáil ahead of tomorrow's crunch EU summit in Brussels.

Mr Varadkar said the EU would continue to search for a positive outcome on Brexit for Ireland, Europe and the UK "until the last minute".

He said that, following his meeting with Mr Johnson last week, he was "convinced that all parties want an agreement."

Intense talks have been taking place between the EU and UK since that meeting amid hopes a deal can be reached in time for this week's summit.

Mr Varadkar said: "We have a pathway to a deal, but there are issues still to be fully resolved."

He listed the issues as consent and democracy and ensuring there was no north-south customs border.

"This is about securing an agreement that works for the people of Ireland and also the people of Britain," he said.

"If it is to work for the people of Ireland, it means avoiding a hard border between north and south.

"That’s always been the Government’s primary objective".

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He said EU negotiator Michel Barnier updated EU foreign ministers on the talks yesterday.

"I don’t think it would be helpful today to say too much about the precise state of play of these discussions or the exact timeframe in which an agreement may be possible.

"I said last week that I thought that there was a pathway to a possible agreement. That is still my view.

"However, the question is whether the negotiators will be able to bridge the remaining gaps in advance of tomorrow’s council."

Mr Martin said Mr Johnson's government has "essentially embraced the idea of a hard Brexit" and it aims to "copper-fasten the United Kingdom’s exit from the Customs Union and Single Market".

He added that Mr Johnson's position was to "move away from a commitment that future trading relations would respect the need for a fair level playing field".

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters

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Mr Martin said: "The avoidance of a chaotic Brexit is very important, particularly as many urgent preparations are not yet complete and the Government has only just hired consultants to check vital contingencies."

But he also warned of the impact on Ireland if Mr Johnson secured the kind of Brexit he has been pursuing.

He said: "The Johnson model for future relations between the United Kingdom as a whole and the European Union will hard-wire in 80pc of the damage to Ireland of a hard Brexit.

"It will not be a successful conclusion to the negotiations... if this is the final outcome and I think we need to be aware of that."

Mr Martin argued that "the economic impact of this hard Brexit will be less severe in the coming months, but will be nearly as damaging in the medium and long term as the no-deal scenario".

He said: "Ireland will get another year to prepare for the new customs and regulatory barriers, but the worst-case scenario will then kick in."

Mr Martin said it appeared that the bulk of the Brexit reserve funding will be required "to help those already badly affected by Brexit and those who need to more urgently diversify markets".

The Fianna Fáil leader said the proposals for Northern Ireland appear to involve it becoming a special economic zone.

He said this would be of benefit to all communities in the North and called for the DUP to "see just how much Northern Ireland has to gain" from such an arrangement, which he argued would not affect its status within the UK.

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