Saturday 24 August 2019

'UK will try to blame us for no deal': Taoiseach

Coveney says Johnson has set UK on ‘collision course’ with EU

Worried: Simon Coveney has not been impressed with Johnson. Photo: PA
Worried: Simon Coveney has not been impressed with Johnson. Photo: PA
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the UK will have brought the potentially dire consequences of a hard Brexit on itself in the event of no deal.

Mr Varadkar said that the UK alone would be to blame for a no-deal situation as the Government struck a more critical tone with the new British prime minister, Boris Johnson, yesterday.

In Belfast, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said Mr Johnson's approach to Brexit thus far, in demanding the complete removal of the backstop, was "worrying for everybody".

He described his comments since taking office as "very unhelpful" and setting Britain on a "collision course" with the European Union and Ireland.

Speaking later at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, Mr Varadkar said: "If the UK leaves on October 31, that is their choice. There may be an attempt in the United Kingdom, to somehow blame the European Union, or somehow blame Irish inflexibility, that is totally wrong.

"The UK can stop no deal at any time, it can revoke Article 50, it can request an extension for a good reason, it can ratify the Withdrawal Agreement.

"So if no deal happens on the October 31, whatever consequences are for the British economy, for the union and for Ireland, they will be things they brought on themselves."

Mr Varadkar repeated that there would be no Brexit deal without the backstop and that removing it would be the same as a no-deal scenario.

He said that the Government should be "wise to the possibility" that Mr Johnson may call a snap general election in September, October or November.

His remarks came shortly before Mr Johnson ruled out a national poll before Halloween.

In a further jab at the political turmoil in Britain, Mr Varadkar said the political stability in Ireland since the general election in 2016 was crucial with Brexit looming.

"Most people, including myself, believed that it wouldn't last very long and we're now on our third British prime minister already," he said.

"There could be a fourth yet, who knows."

Mr Varadkar said that Mr Johnson had demonstrated flexibility and, to laughter from the audience, noted he had voted both for and against the withdrawal deal.

"The real thing I would like to do is just get a sense from him as to what he's thinking and what his plans are. He's demonstrated a degree, I think, of flexibility in the past having voted both for and against the Withdrawal Agreement. I don't think he's going to be entirely inflexible in the future," he said.

"Dealing with counterparts, you really only get a proper sense of where they're going and what their real red lines are in kind of tête-à-tête, the real one-to-one meeting that you do either before or after you meet with officials."

He said he looked forward to "getting the measure of the man" and hearing what his plans are.

Mr Varadkar also told of his belief that the Withdrawal Agreement would have been ratified if former British leader Theresa May had not called a snap election in 2017 or if she had not decreased her majority in that vote.

On a visit to Stormont to meet the new Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith, Mr Coveney hit out at Mr Johnson, saying: "I think the statements of the British prime minister in the House of Commons were very unhelpful to this process.

"I think he seems to have made a deliberate decision to set Britain on a collision course with the European Union and with Ireland in relation to the Brexit negotiations.

"Only he can answer the question as to why he is doing that."

Mr Smith responded by saying he did not believe the UK is on a collision course.

Irish Independent

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