Monday 16 September 2019

Leo Varadkar: 'We should be afraid of no-deal Brexit'

Taoiseach responds to Foster claim that he's engaged in 'Project Fear Mark Two'

Necessary: Leo Varadkar told Boris Johnson the backstop was needed because of decisions taken by the UK. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM
Necessary: Leo Varadkar told Boris Johnson the backstop was needed because of decisions taken by the UK. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM

Cormac McQuinn Political Correspondent

A CRASH-out Brexit and the "very serious" impact it will have on the Irish and UK economies is "something we should be afraid about" Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Mr Varadkar was responding to criticism from DUP leader Arlene Foster who claimed he was involved in "Project Fear Mark Two".

Meanwhile, he said: "I think we should be afraid of a no-deal Brexit.

"A no-deal Brexit would have very serious impacts on the economy, north and south, and on Britain. It could have security implications as well and it could constitutional implications.

"It's something that we have to prepare for nonetheless. It is something we should be afraid about." 

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar also insisted that he has engaged with the DUP but warned that that negotiations on Brexit take place between the EU and the UK.

He said: "In terms of engagement, I have never refused a meeting request from the DUP and never refused a phone call from Arlene either and she has my number.

"I wouldn't accept that criticism at all.

"What I would point out though that when it comes to negotiations on Brexit, they happen between the European Union, including Ireland on the one hand, and the UK government on the other."

He added that no political party is involved in the negotiations and that they are "inter-governmental by nature".

He said he wasn't offended that he had to wait almost a week for a phone call from thee new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Mr Varadkar said: "I have spoken to the new Prime Minister by phone and I have invited him to come to Dublin to talk about these matters some more without any pre-conditions so that's really an invitation for him to decide on."

Mr Varadkar said his conversation with Mr Johnson had been "a good phone call".

He said he hoped to discuss Brexit, the situation in Northern Ireland and bilateral relations when he meets the new prime minister but he hasn't received a response to the invitation yet.

The Taoiseach was asked if he was concerned about Mr Johnson's impartiality on Northern Ireland, given the private dinner he had with the DUP the night before meeting the other parties.

He replied: "I think that remains to be seen.

"He's only just started in the job and I think we need to give him a fair wind and a decent chance."

But Mr Varadkar also added: "we shouldn't also ignore what's there in the Good Friday Agreement".

He said it is "very explicit that the sovereign government, the UK government must be rigorously impartial in how it administers Northern Ireland and we all need to respect the fact that the aspirations about Unionist people and Nationalist people are equal."

He said he mentioned this during his conversation with Mr Johnson because he "thought it was relevant" while saying he had also mentioned it to Theresa May as well.

Mr Varadkar added that he believes the Good Friday Agreement is a "masterpiece".

He said it "is explicit about a number of things; explicit about the principle of consent, that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom until such a time as people may decide otherwise and there is provision in the Good Friday Agreement for a future referendum were the circumstances ever to be right for that."

Mr Varadkar said he doesn't believe the circumstances are right at the moment.

He said the Agreement also says people in the North have the right to be Irish, or British, or both and the UK government must be impartial in the way it administers Northern Ireland and in respecting the equal aspirations of both Unionists and Nationalists.

Mr Varadkar said one of the first things he did when he became Taoiseach was read the Good Friday Agreement again and he said he did so again in the last week.

He said: "it really is a masterpiece in terms of agreement and really is so eloquent and still so relevant today, and I just would certainly encourage anyone holding high office in the United Kingdom to read it and absorb it."

Mr Varadkar was also asked about heightened rhetoric around Brexit and an article where he and Tánaiste Simon Coveney were described ad "fools" and "wilful" children in the destruction of Anglo-Irish relations.

The article was written by journalist Bruce Arnold in the Daily Telegraph.

The Taosieach said: "Any heightened rhetoric isn't coming from us."

"There's a certain irony in being accused of that, when I really think the rhetoric that's come from and the language that's come from the Irish government has been very measured and very consistent over the last couple of years," he said.

He said it's not the first time that such coverage has been seen in the British press.

"We saw elements of that a few years ago as well when we were at a sensitive point in negotiations. Really my attitude to that is that when people start to criticise you personally or attack your character it's because they don't really want to engage with you on the substance or the issues."

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