Sunday 20 October 2019

'We're heading for uncharted territory' as key Brexit talks stall

Varadkar issues warning as Juncker and May meeting fails to yield breakthrough

Theresa May talks to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels. Picture: AP
Theresa May talks to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels. Picture: AP
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Nobody can predict "how matters will play out" if the UK crashes out of the European Union, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

As British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker failed to make any breakthrough in their latest meeting, Mr Varadkar said we are heading for "uncharted territory".

The UK government now appears to have accepted that there is no technology currently available that could be used to avoid a Border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

The latest round of talks between Mrs May and Mr Juncker appeared more positive than their previous efforts - although no significant progress was made.

Mrs May said afterwards that she is still seeking "legally binding changes to the backstop to ensure it cannot be indefinite".

The EU has squarely refused London's demands to rewrite the backstop even though the prime minister claims it is the final stumbling block to her getting a deal through the House of Commons.

A joint statement issued by Mrs May and Mr Juncker said they would explore ways of giving "the appropriate legal assurance to both sides".

"Both reconfirmed their commitment to avoiding a hard Border on the island of Ireland and to respect the integrity of the EU's internal market and of the United Kingdom."

Notably, they also talked about the role "alternative arrangements could play in replacing the backstop in future".

Separately, European Council President Donald Tusk said the Brexit negotiations might be extended if the UK fails to work out a sensible deal.

"Together with Prime Minister May we have prepared a very good and secure deal for both sides and it turned out that the British rejected it and offered nothing in exchange," Mr Tusk said.

"Of course, if Britain fails to prepare some sensible option on time, then there is always a possibility to extend these negotiations in time.

"This would be better than a divorce without agreement," he said.

In the Dáil, Mr Varadkar again insisted that the Government is not preparing to erect any infrastructure at the Border, but said Ireland would defend the EU's single market.

"If we end up in a no-deal scenario without an extension, it will create a difficult dilemma for Ireland, the United Kingdom and the EU," he said.

"The UK will be bound to implement World Trade Organisation rules and we will have a responsibility to protect the single market, which we want to do, given that it is our single market and given that our industrial and economic policy, employment and much more are based on our full membership of it," Mr Varadkar said.

He added that "above all", the commitment of the Irish Government would be to the Good Friday Agreement.

"We would be in a situation where we would have to come to an agreement on regulatory alignment and customs, but that is what we already have.

"That is why our efforts are focused on securing the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Irish protocol and the backstop, which is the best and only way to give us an assurance that a hard Border will not emerge on our island, whatever else happens as a consequence of Brexit."

He said the resignations from Mrs May's party were a further sign of how unstable and "hard to predict" the situation is.

"All we can do is prepare for the different and most likely scenarios."

Retail Ireland yesterday predicted that a hard Brexit will have devastating consequences for the economy.

Thomas Burke, director of Retail Ireland, said retailers will see an increase in operating costs as a result of checks at ports and supply chain disruption.

"In the current operating environment, these additional costs simply cannot be absorbed and will have to be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.

"Our members continue to work hard to plan for all possible eventualities, but the ongoing uncertainty is damaging our industry and impacting our customers," he said.

Irish Independent

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