Tuesday 16 July 2019

Taoiseach postpones his Cabinet rejig due to Brexit mess

Varadkar says his ministers must be focused on jobs at tough time

‘New ideas’: British Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip leave church near Maidenhead, England, yesterday. Photo: Reuters/Henry Nicholls
‘New ideas’: British Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip leave church near Maidenhead, England, yesterday. Photo: Reuters/Henry Nicholls
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has rowed back on plans for a Cabinet reshuffle, giving Brexit as a reason for putting off decisions on who will be hired and fired.

It comes just weeks after Mr Varadkar put ministers on notice that a shake-up was planned for after the local and European elections. He publicly said it would be a "logical time" for it to take place.

Now Mr Varadkar has said: "At a time when we need to get through Brexit, I need ministers focused on their jobs, not reading into a new job."

Brexit is set to once again dominate the political agenda in the week ahead as Mr Varadkar travels to Brussels on Wednesday for talks on no-deal planning with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk.

It is understood Mr Varadkar will also meet Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan to discuss EU aid for vulnerable Irish farmers in the case of a crash-out Brexit.

The prospect of hundreds of millions of euro in aid was revealed by the Irish Independent last month.

Any such aid would be available to farmers in other Brexit-hit EU countries as well.

British Prime Minister Theresa May also has plans to return to Brussels to seek changes to the so-called backstop to avoid a hard Border in Ireland.

Her government last week rejected the backstop it had previously agreed to, and backed a Westminster vote to dump it in favour of undefined "alternative arrangements".

The Irish Government and the EU have been adamant the Withdrawal Agreement - including the backstop - will not be renegotiated.

Mrs May said she would return to Brussels "armed with a fresh mandate, new ideas and a renewed determination to agree a pragmatic solution".

Meanwhile, UK Trade Secretary Liam Fox warned if Ireland and the EU weren't prepared to negotiate on the backstop, the likely outcome would be a no-deal Brexit.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said officials told him existing technology can avoid a hard Border and "the only thing missing is a bit of goodwill on the EU side".

The EU has repeatedly said the technology does not exist to avoid Border infrastructure and, speaking on RTÉ Radio, Mr Varadkar said it was "very frustrating" British politicians are returning to the idea.

Separately, Mr Varadkar was asked if under-fire ministers Eoghan Murphy and Simon Harris may be in line for the chop in any upcoming reshuffle. He replied "not necessarily" and insisted there was progress in both areas. Mr Murphy's housing policy today faced renewed criticism as Social Justice Ireland claimed it is not working.

A spokesman for Mr Murphy said it was "factually incorrect" to say the Rebuilding Ireland plan had failed, adding that up to 19,000 new homes will be built this year.

Meanwhile, appearing on the BBC's 'Andrew Marr Show', Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald was asked about the issue of a Border poll and said her party would "prepare for the worst scenario and protect our national interest".

Her comments yesterday were made less than 24 hours after she told a gathering of party activists in Dublin that the unionist community needed to start "preparing for Irish unity".

Last night a spokesman for Mr Varadkar said: "The Taoiseach has made it clear on numerous occasions this is not the right time for a Border poll."

Irish Independent

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