'The EU will stand fully behind Ireland' - Barnier's warning to British politicians as he meets with Varadkar
THE EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has warned British politicians that they will have to answer the Irish question before anything else can be discussed in a no-deal scenario.
After meetings with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe in Dublin, Mr Barnier said Ireland will be the EU’s priority if there is a disorderly Brexit.
“The EU will stand fully behind Ireland. You have our full support. The backstop is currently the only solution we have to found to maintain the status quo on the island of Ireland,” he said.
Addressing the prospect of no-deal, Mr Barnier sent out a clear message about how the EU would react.
“We would not discuss anything with the UK until there is an agreement on Ireland and Northern, citizens’ rights and the financial settlement,” he said.
The statement is likely to be close analysed in London where Prime Minister Theresa May has employed the help of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to try avoid a no-deal scenario.
Their talks are understood to be based around the possibility of the UK entering a customs union with the EU, something Mr Barnier said he would be open to.
“We all hope that these talks will produce a positive outcome,” the Frenchman said.
“We can be much more ambitious in our future relationship with the UK.”
He said the existing political declaration on the post-Brexit relationship between the UK and EU can provide for “a range of outcomes including a customs union”.
“This work can be done extremely quickly,” he said.
Mr Barnier also discussed Ireland’s preparations for a no-deal scenario - but would not take questions after making a short statement at Government Buildings.
He said the EU’s goals “are to protect the Good Friday Agreement, peace on this island and the integrity of the single market.
“I am confident we will find operational solutions,” he said.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar added that if the UK crashes out this Friday, the consequences would be a “shared challenge” for Ireland and the EU.
He said a no deal exit “will be damaging for everybody”.
Speaking about the EU Council meeting on Wednesday, where it will be decided whether the UK should get a Brexit extension, Mr Varadkar said leaders would have “different views but I’m confident of reaching an agreement”.
The Taoiseach has spoken with British Prime Minister Theresa May by phone this evening.
Following his meeting the EU’s chief negotiator, Mr Varadkar discussed the possibility of delaying Brexit with Mrs May.
“The Taoiseach repeated his openness to an extension of the deadline,” a brief statement said afterwards.
Mr Varadkar also had talks with the leaders of the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Malta this evening.