Sunday 20 October 2019

Varadkar warns Johnson 'worst yet to come' ahead of showdown

British PM to fly to Dublin, then try to force election

Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson don’t have much in common – let alone their Brexit policies
Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson don’t have much in common – let alone their Brexit policies
Why the long face?: Boris Johnson in West Yorkshire yesterday after he promised £750m to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers. Photo: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Talks on the backstop should be the easiest part of the Brexit process, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned ahead of a showdown with Boris Johnson.

Mr Varadkar has indicated he will not be in a compromising mood when the British prime minister comes to Dublin on Monday.

Irish officials are confident the meeting will go ahead despite Mr Johnson's plan to try collapse his own government that evening.

But the Taoiseach has sought to turn up the pressure on his counterpart, saying he will not allow the UK to "merely kick the can down the road".

"A Withdrawal Agreement without the backstop is no good to us," Mr Varadkar told the British Irish Chamber of Commerce last night.

He hopes Mr Johnson will bring genuine proposals to Farmleigh House - but added that in any event "there is no such things as a clean break".

Clear message: Leo Varadkar addressed the British Irish Chamber of Commerce last night. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Clear message: Leo Varadkar addressed the British Irish Chamber of Commerce last night. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Mr Johnson's priority now appears to be convincing the UK parliament to sanction an election on October 15.

He claimed legislation which forces him to seek a delay to Brexit has "absolutely torpedoed" his negotiating position.

Mr Johnson said he would "rather be dead in a ditch" than ask EU leaders for an extension.

He even refused to rule out resigning, saying: "It costs a billion pounds a month, it achieves absolutely nothing, what is the point of further delay. I think it's totally, totally pointless."

Despite MPs coming together to block a disorderly Brexit, the Irish Government's assessment is no deal remains the most likely outcome.

Significantly, Mr Varadkar said last night that this would result in checkpoints "near the Border". Previously, the Government has refused to go further than to say checks would be "away" from the Border.

He did promise that even if there is a hard Brexit, there will be "no need for tax increases, spending cuts or reductions in pay, pensions or welfare".

Ministers are wary of the motivations behind Mr Johnson's trip to Dublin given he has stated the negotiations cannot proceed without a UK election first.

However, ministers are keen for the meeting to take place so that Mr Varadkar can personally reiterate a willingness to work with the UK if it produces workable alternatives to the backstop.

A significant portion of the conversation will also focus on the situation in Northern Ireland.

A senior source said the Government is acutely conscious of the fact that Mr Johnson will attempt to manipulate the situation to suit his domestic agenda.

"He will tell people he's coming here with a magnanimous offer," a source told the Irish Independent.

In a speech last night, Mr Varadkar sought to set out the parameters for the meeting.

He said even if there is a deal, the EU and UK will have to enter "several years of negotiations on a new free-trade agreement and a new economic and security partnership. That will be fraught."

The Taoiseach added: "I think it may make the negotiations on the withdrawal seem simple."

In a no-deal scenario, Mr Varadkar predicted there will be a period of separation before the EU and UK have to engage again.

"The first and only items on the agenda for such negotiations will be citizens' rights, the financial settlement with the EU and a solution to the Irish Border. All the issues we spent the last two years on."

In a thinly veiled swipe at US Vice-President Mike Pence, the Taoiseach also said the EU has been "firm and respectful" in dealing with the UK and negotiated "in good faith".

Mr Pence caused considerable annoyance in Government circles earlier this week when he used a visit to Dublin to suggest the EU had been disingenuous and unfair to Mr Johnson.

The vice-president was in London yesterday where he said the US would move quickly to agree a trade deal with the UK after Brexit.

During a joint media appearance, Mr Johnson quipped: "We're not too keen on your chlorinated chicken - we have a gigantic chlorinated chicken of our own here on the opposition benches."

This was a reference to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's refusal to facilitate an immediate general election.

Irish Independent

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