Monday 16 September 2019

Varadkar friend: Time to 'compromise' with Johnson on Brexit backstop

Leo Varadkar and former Fine Gael minister Lucinda Creighton, pictured in 2011 Picture: Gerry Mooney
Leo Varadkar and former Fine Gael minister Lucinda Creighton, pictured in 2011 Picture: Gerry Mooney Newsdesk Newsdesk

A former Fine Gael minister and close friend of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says there must be a "compromise" on the controversial backstop to avert economic disaster from Brexit.

Lucinda Creighton, the former Europe Minister, says a "fudge" on the backstop in talks with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson would be better than 80,000 people losing their jobs in a no-deal Brexit scenario.

She is proposing a time limit on the backstop - the guarantee there will be no hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland in a Brexit deal.

Ms Creighton is now a political affairs consultant as chief executive of Vulcan Consulting and is no longer a member of Fine Gael.

However, she is a close friend of Mr Varadkar since they were members of Fine Gael as students in Trinity College Dublin.

And her commentary is expected to be picked up in Downing Street and the Tory press.

Ms Creighton said she is expressing a personal opinion and not reflecting anyone else's view.

"I'm not aligned to any political party," she said on RTÉ Radio One.

Ms Creighton said a no deal Brexit "will have a very negative impact on the Irish economy".

When asked if she had discussed Brexit with Mr Varadkar, she replied: "Not recently."

Ms Creighton said British politics is "sclerotic" and she cannot see any change in the coming years.

She also says she cannot see Mr Johnson compromising on the Brexit negotiations, particularly the backstop.

"We have lived with the grave uncertainty for the past three years, since the UK decided to leave. We have seen the impact of that," she said.

"We must compromise and offer a five-year time limit on the backstop to avoid economic devastation," she writes in In her column in the 'Sunday Business Post'.

Ms Creighton says she has been following Brexit closely since former British Prime Minister David Cameron called a referendum and said she predicted Britain would vote to leave the EU.

Mr Varadkar and Ms Creighton met in college. The pair were both elected to the council in 2004 and to the Dáil in 2007 as part of Enda Kenny's party resurgence.

Both opposed Mr Kenny's leadership in the 2010 Fine Gael heave.

Nonetheless, Mr Kenny made Mr Varadkar the Transport Minister in his Cabinet in 2011 and Ms Creighton was appointed as junior minister for European Affairs at the Taoiseach's department.

Ms Creighton was forced to resign as minister by Mr Kenny and lost the party whip when she voted against the first abortion liberalisation laws in the country, the Protection of Life in Maternity Act.

She left Fine Gael and set up the ill-fated Renua party but lost her seat in Dublin Bay South at the last general election.

Ms Creighton remains a good friend of Mr Varadkar and was a guest at his 40th birthday party last January.

Meanwhile, Business minister Heather Humphreys this afternoon said she doesn't agree with Ms Creighton's views on the backstop.

It was put to Ms Humphreys that a Sunday Business Post comment piece written by Ms Creighton argued that the backstop is "unworkable" and insisting on it is a "pretty futile government position" that will "unleash great harm on our people".

Ms Humphreys said: "I don’t agree with that assessment because I believe that the backstop is our insurance policy" and added: "I don’t want to see a hard border returning between us and Northern Ireland."

She told RTÉ Radio: "I speak regularly to businesses in Northern Ireland. They don’t want a hard border either.

"As we know there’s a very intricate supply chain between us and Northern Ireland and a lot of business criss-cross seamlessly  - goods over and back... we want to try and maintain that and that’s why the backstop is there."

She insisted: "it’s important that we hold our position on this, that we must have the backstop part of the Withdrawal Agreement."

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