Sunday 16 December 2018

Varadkar won't pause Brexit talks despite lack of progress

Proposals by the British PM Theresa May were rejected. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville
Proposals by the British PM Theresa May were rejected. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Kevin Doyle and Shona Murray

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will not seek to 'pause' the Brexit talks despite the lack of progress on the Irish Border.

Ahead of a meeting of EU leaders next week, negotiators have already decided the UK has not met the threshold of "sufficient progress" in relation to the Border.

But well-placed sources told the Irish Independent that "on balance it would be a mistake to delay things at the moment".

The high-risk strategy will be discussed by Mr Varadkar with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker today.

It was previously suggested that Ireland would ask EU chiefs to stall the talks unless the UK put forward an acceptable way of maintaining an open Border by the June 28 deadline.

Proposals for a temporary customs union tabled by British Prime Minister Theresa May have been rejected.

However, there is "no appetite" to create a "do-or-die moment" in the Brexit negotiations at this stage.

A source said: "All of the deadlines so far have drifted a bit. Pausing things for a month or six weeks would not achieve much except to make it harder to close out the withdrawal agreement by October."

Another Irish official noted that there was still the "ultimate veto" which is that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, including the Border".

It is believed the agenda for next week's EU summit will now be dominated by other issues, such as migration.

"With everything else on the agenda, [Donald] Tusk will say we'll spend two minutes on Brexit," a source said.

Amid ongoing political drama in the UK, a visit by Mr Juncker to Dublin today will be closely scrutinised. He is expected to target a UK audience in a historic address to the joint Houses of the Oireachtas.

The message will be that "everyone else in Europe is backing the Irish" and that without an agreement for keeping the Border open there will be no withdrawal agreement.

He will also take part in a roundtable discussion with the Taoiseach, Mr Barnier, EU Commissioner Phil Hogan and Tánaiste Simon Coveney. The agenda includes trade, economic and monetary union, migration and the EU's budget.

In a statement last night, Mr Varadkar thanked Mr Juncker for his "solidarity throughout the Brexit negotiations".

"This is an important opportunity to assess the state of play in the Brexit negotiations. We need to see much more progress from the UK to implement the commitments they made in December and March, and I expect the UK's efforts to intensify in the period ahead," he said.

Speaking to reporters earlier yesterday, the Taoiseach let slip the frustration being felt by the Government here as he questioned why any country would do a trade deal with the UK if it did not honour its promise to maintain an open Border.

"The UK is a country that is talking about going global, talking about making trade deals all over the world.

"How could anyone deal with a country that doesn't stand by its commitments," he said.

Irish Independent

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