Saturday 25 May 2019

We won't help the UK come up with border solution – Leo Varadkar

*Taoiseach says if anybody should be angry about Brexit it’s Ireland

*Rules out possibility of new border using technology

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Picture: Conor McCabe Photography
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Picture: Conor McCabe Photography

Kevin Doyle Group Political Editor

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that Ireland will not play any role in creating a border between the North and the Republic.

In a dramatic raising of the Brexit stakes, Mr Varadkar has said it is up to the British government to devise the so-called seamless border – but warned even then Ireland may not accept it.

"There hasn’t been an economic border since 1992. As far as this Government is concerned there shouldn’t be an economic border.

"We don’t want one. It’s the United Kingdom, it’s Britain that has decided to leave and if they want to put forward smart solutions, technological solutions for borders of the future and all of that that’s up to them," he said.

"We’re not going to be doing that work for them because we don’t think there should be an economic border at all. That is our position."

The comments are likely to stun the UK government who have until now been working closely with Dublin to devise what Prime Minister Theresa May has described as a "frictionless border".

It had been suggested that technology could be used to monitor goods crossing between the Republic and Northern Ireland after Brexit – but Mr Varadkar has now rejected this out of hand.

Read more: Bertie Ahern says there is no possibility of Ireland leaving the EU: 'We're mad, but we're not that mad'

Asked whether he was concerned that by ratcheting up the rhetoric he could upset the DUP in Northern Ireland or Downing Street, Mr Varadkar bluntly replied: “'I hope there won’t be any angry response from anyone. Anger isn’t a policy and anger doesn’t lead to solutions. But if anyone is angry it should be us.”

He said the Good Friday Agreement was written in the context of Britain and Ireland working together within the EU.

“It is the British and the Brexiteers who are leaving, so if anyone should be angry it’s us quite frankly. But we’re not going to get angry. We are going to try and find solutions that will benefit or at least minimise the damage to relations between Britain and Ireland, to the peace process and to trading links. But what we are not going to do is design a border for the Brexiteers.

“They are the ones who want a border, it is up to them to say what it is, to say how it would work and to first of all convince their own people, their own voters, that this is actually a good idea,” he said.

The Taoiseach said his government position is “very clear”, adding: “We do not think it’s in the interests of Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom that there should be an economic border between our two countries or on our island and we’re not going to be helping them to design some sort of border that we don’t believe should exist in the first place.”

“So let them put forward their proposals as to how they think a border should operate and then we’ll ask them if they really think this is such a good idea because I think it will have a very severe impact on their economy if they decide to go down that route.”

Former Ulster Unionist Party first minister David Trimble said Mr Varadkar and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney should "go away" and "calm down".

He said any suggestion that "the border should run down the Irish Sea with Northern Ireland being obviously on the Irish side rather than the British side is something that is completely unacceptable and is simply not going to happen."

He said raising the possibility could do "enormous damage" to the relationship between Dublin and Belfast, which he said had been "quite cordial" since the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Trimble told Sky News that Ireland joined the EU at the same time as the UK and "should seriously consider following us out".

He added: "I do have to say too, to the new Irish prime minister and the new Irish foreign minister - they should go away, calm down and look carefully at that  agreement that we negotiated...

"They need to go back to that and to think carefully about their obligation to abide by that agreement and not be seen to try and undermine it."

In response to Mr Varadkar’s intervention, a spokesperson for the UK Brexit office said finding a solution to the border question is “a top priority, which we want to address early in the negotiations”.

“We are pleased to have had constructive discussions with the European Commission on this already.

"As we have always been clear, our guiding principle will be to ensure that – as we leave the EU – no new barriers to living and doing business within the UK are created,” the spokesperson said.

"We aim to have as frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and the Republic Ireland and we welcome the European Council’s recognition that flexible and creative solutions will be required.

"It is our priority to deliver a practical solution, that recognises the unique social, political and economic circumstances of the border."

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