Thursday 13 December 2018

Taoiseach: Deal on Irish border will have to be agreed by October

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Mark Condren
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Mark Condren

Shona Murray

A withdrawal treaty including any Irish border deal will have to be agreed by October, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warned.

The deadline was necessary to allow time for UK and European parliaments to ratify arrangements before Brexit a year from now, he said as he arrived at a European Council meeting of state leaders in Brussels.

Mr Varadkar said he had hoped the controversial backstop could be finalised by June, but has agreed to wait longer so that a solution for the border could be agreed instead.

This would negate the need for 'Option C' - or the backstop.

“Would I like to have it done by June? Absolutely, but I would rather have the right deal by October, rather than any deal in June”, he told reporters on the margins of the European Council meeting in Brussels.

Brexit is due to happen at the end on March 2019, so the October deadline is necessary to allow time for UK and European parliaments to ratify the agreement.

Mr Varadkar reiterated his firm stance on the importance of the backstop arrangement in which Northern Ireland would continue to follow EU regulations which affect the island if no other solution is found.

But he said that was not his preferred option.

"So the way it can be changed is for us to develop option A, which is a really close trading relationship between the UK and the EU, so close that many of the things that are in the backstop may become unnecessary, if that makes sense," he said.

Asked if Ireland’s priorities were being put on the long finger, and in jeopardy of being side-lined for broader priorities such as the transitional period or financial settlement, he said

"There cannot be a withdrawal agreement without a solution to the Irish border and a hard border being avoided; and we’ll be standing very firm on that."

He denied that Ireland could get left behind if it waits until October to settle the matter of the backstop.

"We’ve absolute, unconditional support across the European Union, and across the European Union from all 27 member states that a hard border is avoided.

“I haven’t seen any departure on that absolute position."

 Mr Varadkar said it was vital that Europe-wide genuine solidarity for Ireland was forthcoming and consistent, in order to prove to skeptics that the EU was a club worth being a member of.

He said this should be the overriding principle, even if it means abandoning Britain.

“There is a real understanding across the European Union that it’s important that the European Union demonstrates that it supports a small member state that is staying, even if it means not supporting a large member state that is leaving.”

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar  has avoided apportioning blame to Russia over attempted assassination of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.

He was asked:" do you agree with the British government that Russia is to blame for the attack in Salisbury?"

He replied “I think what happened at Salisbury was loathsome and reprehensible; and we’re going to stand right beside the UK on that issue.

“An attempted assassination or a chemical attack no matter who does it is something that we’re going to condemn and condemn outright.”

So far, the EU has failed to come up with a definite line on culpability for the attack.

The UK says the evidence and results of their investigation point the smoking gun squarely at Russia.

 Mr Varadkar expressed Ireland’s “full solidarity” with Britain we should “stick together”.

 “As a fellow member of the European Union, we’re going to be in full solidarity with the United Kingdom”, he said.

“We’re all members of the European Union; 28 of us. We’re all small countries in many ways.

“But there are big countries that surround us and we sometimes come in to conflict with them."

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