Tuesday 22 October 2019

Varadkar 'not optimistic' Johnson will have realistic fix for Brexit

Running out of time: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: David Mirzoeff/PA Wire
Running out of time: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: David Mirzoeff/PA Wire
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he is "not particularly optimistic" that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will present realistic proposals for achieving a Brexit deal next week.

It comes as the EU heaped pressure on Mr Johnson to put forward ideas to break the deadlock over his wish to scrap the backstop to avoid a hard Border.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government warned that time is running out and the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier underlined the need to "address the problems" Brexit creates for Ireland.

The European Union and the Irish Government have told Mr Johnson that the onus is on the British side to come up with viable alternative solutions to the backstop.

Mr Varadkar met European Council President Donald Tusk earlier this week in New York. They discussed how the EU wants to see written proposals from the British government in the first week of October. This is to allow enough time to prepare a deal before what is going to be a crunch EU summit later in the month.

But Mr Varadkar last night played down the prospects of Mr Johnson providing a solution by the end of next week.

"Based on what's happened in the last month or two, I'm not particularly optimistic," he said. "There is still time, albeit time is running short and if we're going to be in position to agree something at the European Council summit on the 17th and 18th of October, we're really going to need to work that up in the week or two before it."

Mr Varadkar said there must be "a workable and legally binding solution to the problem". He said assurances are needed that there will be no hard Border, that the all- island economy will continue to operate, and North-South co-operation can continue as envisaged under the Good Friday Agreement.

He said that the British government offered such commitments in December 2017.

"Prime Minister Johnson has said he's going to honour that. So we need to see how that will be done in writing," Mr Varadkar said.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert last night said that "with goodwill, it's doable" to reach a Brexit deal but warned time is running out.

Mr Barnier held separate meetings with Tánaiste Simon Coveney and UK Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay in Brussels yesterday. Afterwards Mr Coveney said EU negotiators "simply haven't seen yet" a British proposal that could break the impasse over the backstop and the two sides are "quite a long way apart".

Mr Barclay said the "moment of truth" is coming and "we will see if there is political will on both sides". He insisted the UK is "committed to securing a deal" but said he told Mr Barnier "the backstop has to go".

Irish Independent

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