Varadkar raises hopes of breakthrough in Brexit impasse
Taoiseach says UK-wide solution 'remains possible'
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said "UK-wide solutions are possible" to resolve the Brexit crisis. His comment, in a Sunday Independent article today, follows indications that senior DUP figures are now open to a 'soft' Brexit.
Yesterday DUP MP and chief whip Jeffrey Donaldson said the "time for megaphone diplomacy on both sides" was over.
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He said unionists were "ready to engage" and called for "political maturity" that the Brexit challenge demanded.
Mr Donaldson told the Sunday Independent: "I believe it is possible to arrive at a UK-wide solution that protects both the integrity of the UK and the EU and avoids a hard border. Certainly such an outcome avoids a hard Brexit but it doesn't mean the UK staying in the single market.
"A new free trade agreement with the EU should provide for customs arrangements that accommodate North-South cooperation without creating a regulatory border in the Irish Sea."
It is understood that Mr Varadkar and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney will now offer to meet a DUP delegation this week. Mr Varadkar will also ask all party leaders in the Dail to meet him on Tuesday to consult and confer on the situation.
As the March 29 Brexit deadline looms, the Taoiseach will also meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Netherlands PM Mark Rutte, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez this week in Davos.
Taken together, these developments indicate that positions are evolving in an urgent attempt to find a solution to the Brexit crisis.
In a break from the hard-line DUP position on Brexit, Mr Donaldsonaid in a tweet: "Any solution must respect the integrity of both the United Kingdom and EU but also the progress made in developing relationships on these islands. This is above all about future relationships."
He later said: "I have been concerned for some time about the level of megaphone diplomacy across the border. The absence of the political institutions, including the Assembly and North-South Ministerial Council has left the Brexit process bereft of a dialogue between Belfast and Dublin.
"This has resulted in a proposal for a backstop that now threatens to upend the entire process and result in a hard Brexit. If this is to be avoided, we all need to show the political maturity that has enabled us to achieve so much through the peace process and find our way through and out of this impasse.
"The GFA is founded on the principle of consent and in developing relationships that respect the integrity of each other's position. An outcome that creates a border in the Irish Sea threatens this delicate balance just as much as a hard border between North and South. We need a solution that avoids both."
A 'soft' Brexit arrangement with the EU, involving UK-wide customs or regulatory alignment or non-divergence, may secure sufficient support in the Commons, with the backing of the DUP and Remain-supporting Labour and Conservative party MPs, and Scottish Nationalists.
However, hard-line Tory Brexiteers have delivered an ultimatum to UK Prime Minister Theresa May, warning she will split the party if she seeks support from Labour for a watered-down Brexit plan.
In his article today, Mr Varadkar refers to the controversial Ireland 'backstop' element of the EU-UK withdrawal agreement document.
"We wrote it with the UK government and elements were included at their request, like the single customs territory encompassing Britain as well as Northern Ireland," the Taoiseach writes. "Solutions and special arrangements that are specific to Northern Ireland are easier to negotiate and implement given its size and unique history and geography, but UK-wide solutions are possible too."