Orderly Brexit won't happen without Border deal - Varadkar

Taoiseach critical of British ‘red lines’ in speech

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar makes his speech last night at the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium. Photo: Reuters

Shona Murray in Leuven, Belgium

The UK's orderly Brexit is in jeopardy without a solution to the Irish Border issue, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned.

In a hard-hitting speech, Mr Varadkar left the British government in "no doubt" that he is prepared to pull the plug on the proposed withdrawal agreement.

Ramping up Ireland's position and demanding clarity on avoiding a hard Border, Mr Varadkar renounced British "red lines" on Brexit such as its refusal so far to remain within the single market, the customs union or the European Economic Area.

"The only thing that is a barrier to the close and comprehensive relationship is some of the hard red lines that have come from the British government," he said at the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium.

"It is essential that we see real and solid progress by June if the negotiations are to move forward. And without a solution to the Irish Border there can be no withdrawal agreement. Let there be no doubt about that," he said as part of his lecture on the Future of Europe.

Britain needs the withdrawal agreement settled by the October deadline, as it also contains the terms of the 21-month transitional period in which businesses can adapt to Brexit before March 2019. Mr Varadkar stopped short of threatening to halt Brexit progress altogether.

"That's a judgment call to be made then. I'm not someone who makes ultimatums. I'm not somebody who makes threats.

"That's not the way I've approached these negotiations," he said when asked if he was prepared to essentially veto progress on talks at the next EU summit in late June.

Earlier, Irish EU Commissioner Phil Hogan called on the UK to "climb down from the barricades" and find a deal in the best interests of all the people. "The UK wants to keep its red lines, understands that a free trade agreement means a hard Border, and is trying to escape by inventing a new type of border," Mr Hogan told the Seanad in Dublin.

He said British Prime Minister Theresa May had said a soft Border can be assured - even with a free-trade agreement.

But he added: "The EU has looked at the UK's ideas. It is not convinced that they can give us the border security we need within the Brexit timescale.

"It has sent the UK back to the drawing board. Meanwhile, it insists on the back-stop of a customs union for the whole island."

He added that Mrs May wanted the UK "to retain many of the advantages it gains from EU membership".

"She has given us a long list of what the UK wants to keep. A very long list. On the other hand, she maintains her red lines," he said.

Meanwhile, the uncertainty around Brexit's impact on banks and financial services dominated a high-level seminar in London yesterday hosted by the British Irish Chamber of Commerce.

The chair of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce Financial Services Committee Brian Daly, who is also head of Brexit at KPMG, said afterwards that Brexit talks have been "slow, difficult and fraught with uncertainty". He told the Irish Independent that earlier prospects of a 10,000-job 'Brexit boost' for Ireland from banks and insurers leaving London was no longer realistic, and there was a growing risk of a disruptive, no-deal Brexit.