Thursday 24 May 2018

UK must give us a 'clear' vision on Border: Taoiseach

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Reuters
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Reuters
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will ask the British government to publicly outline "a clear and satisfactory" proposal for how the Northern Ireland Border will operate after Brexit.

Mr Varadkar will meet British Prime Minister Theresa May in Downing Street today to discuss the reaction to her Florence speech - in which she outlined that Britain wants a two-year transition period after leaving the EU.

Elements of Mrs May's speech were given a "cautious welcome" by the Government here, but there is ongoing concern that the UK is unable to present a vision for the so-called 'frictionless Border'.

Ahead of the meeting, a spokesperson for the Taoiseach said he would use the opportunity to "emphasise that Ireland will continue to negotiate as part of the EU27 remaining member states, represented by Michel Barnier and his task force".

"The EU has made clear to the UK that there must be sufficient progress on the three issues of citizens' rights, financial settlement and Irish issues before the negotiations can address the future EU-UK relationship," the spokesman said.

In last Friday's speech, Mrs May reaffirmed her commitment to the Good Friday Agreement, as well as ensuring no physical infrastructure is put in place along the Border.

But sources say she will need to go much further before the stalled Brexit talks can progress from the first phase.

While Mr Varadkar meets the prime minister, Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin will also be in the UK to talk to opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Howlin said he would use his time at the UK Labour Party conference in Brighton to call on his sister party "to take whatever actions they can to stop the relentless drive towards a hard Brexit".

"Friends have an obligation to support each other, but also to be honest with each other. I will be reiterating my belief that Brexit will be bad for Britain, and bad for Ireland too," he said.

It comes as the EU Commissioner for Taxation and Customs refused to rule out EU custom checks on Irish ports and airports after March 2019.

Pierre Moscovici told Newstalk's 'On The Record with Chris Donoghue' that the EU must protect its customs area.

He said it was up to the British government to provide a roadmap before his office can actively begin to prepare for the post-Brexit environment.

"Mrs May pronounced recently an important speech that needs to be translated in concrete proposals and I cannot offer you a roadmap," he said.

"But the only thing I can say is that we are really watching this question of the Border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, that we don't want to backtrack, we don't want to go back to the past."

Meanwhile, MEP Brian Hayes said the two-year transition period proposed by Mrs May was already at risk unless its terms could be quickly agreed.

Mrs May said there would be no rule changes on trade during the period. But Mr Hayes warned the details must be put in place in the coming months as it would require clearance from all national and regional parliaments within the EU.

"There needs to be an early agreement on transitional arrangements in the Brexit negotiations. All Irish companies that trade with the UK need to know what will happen with their UK trading operations after March 2019, when the Brexit negotiations will complete," Mr Hayes said.

The Dublin MEP said the details must be worked out by the first quarter of next year.

"We cannot have a situation where the transition period would be agreed in last-minute Brexit negotiations. This would be absolute chaos for all EU businesses that trade with the UK," he added.

Mr Hayes said that given the bad-tempered nature of EU-UK Brexit talks to date, the transition period could become a dispute within a dispute.

"There could easily be a Mexican stand-off on this issue if it is left until the bitter end," he warned.

Irish Independent

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