Sunday 22 April 2018

'I was surprised and disappointed' - Taoiseach on breakdown of potential Brexit border deal

  • Brexit: No deal today between Ireland and UK on border
  • No agreement on the Brexit "divorce deal" European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has said
  • DUP leader Arlene Foster says: "We will not accept any kind of regulatory divergence"
  • Sources in Dublin say the UK government needs to hold further negotiations with unionists
  • British Prime Minister said she was "confident we will conclude this positively"
Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste, Simon Coveney and Minister Helen McEntee at a press conference on Phase I of the Brexit negotiations this evening at Government buildings.
Pic:Mark Condren
Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste, Simon Coveney and Minister Helen McEntee at a press conference on Phase I of the Brexit negotiations this evening at Government buildings. Pic:Mark Condren
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met with DUP leader Arlene Foster earlier this year. Photo: www.doug.ie
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was "both surprised and disappointed" after Brexit talks on the Northern Ireland border failed to reach a deal today.

A Brexit deal to solve the 'Irish question' was done until a last minute intervention from the DUP, the Irish Government has confirmed.

Hopes were high that the UK would sign off on commitment to maintain regulatory convergence in a post-Brexit era.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he was "surprised" by the UK's request for more time after initially being told an agreement had been reached.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrives at Government Buildings in Dublin to attend an emergency cabinet meeting on Brexit. Credit: Laura Hutton/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrives at Government Buildings in Dublin to attend an emergency cabinet meeting on Brexit. Credit: Laura Hutton/PA Wire

Speaking this evening, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was both "surprised and disappointed" to hear the deal would not be reached.

He has told an evening press briefing in Dublin that "substantial progress" had been made and Ireland was ready to sign off on the deal.

The agreed text between the UK and EU "gave us the assurance we need that even as an unintended consequences there would not be a hard border on the island of Ireland", he said.

However, UK Prime Minister Theresa May was on the verge of formally signing up to the deal but stepped back after a last minute intervention from the DUP.

Tanaiste Simon Coveney . Photo: Gerry Mooney
Tanaiste Simon Coveney . Photo: Gerry Mooney

"It is evident that things broke down during the lunch in the Brussels," Mr Varadkar said.

"I am surprised and disappointed that the British government now appears not to be in a position to conclude what was agreed earlier in the day."

"We did make substantial progress on a number of issues today," Taoiseach Varadkar continued.

"But the most difficult issue is to maintain the agreement that there will not be a hard border on the island of Ireland.

"This has been to the absolute forefront of Ireland's concerns since before the referendum.

"We do not want a border in the Irish Sea any more than we want a border between Newry and Dundalk, and Letterkenny and Derry."

The Taoiseach said it would not be useful to start pointing fingers.

At the same time he noted that the DUP are "just one party in Northern Ireland".

He said the Irish government was representing the attitude taking by the majority of people in the North.

Responding to suggestions from DUP representatives that the Irish government is driven by a republican agenda, Mr Varadkar said there is "no hidden agenda".

"The motivation of the Irish government have always been to try maintain the status quo on the island of Ireland," he said.

"The majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to Remain. And the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland voted for the Good Friday Agreement." 

Mr Varadkar said he knows British PM Theresa May "faces many challenges" and is "negotiating in good faith".

"My position and that of the Irish Government is unequivocal and is supported by all parties in Irish Government," the Taoiseach continued.

"It is very much in our interest to go to phase two. We can't do this without a firm guarantee that there will not be a hard border in Ireland.

"Mr Juncker has said that Ireland's position remains Europe's position," he added.

Mr Juncker also spoke this evening, and said work will continue in the days ahead to reach a deal.

“This is not a failure,” he said, adding that Theresa May is a “tough negotiator”.

Talks

Discussions are set to resume later this week, with both Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker declaring themselves "confident" that a solution can be found in time for a key summit of the European Council on December 14.

Earlier today the Democratic Unionist Party has said it will not accept any Brexit deal that "separates" Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Arlene Foster was speaking at a press conference in Stormont this afternoon in the aftermath of reports Ireland and Britain had reached a deal that will prevent the return of a hard Border between the Republic and Norther Ireland.

Hopes of that deal have now been scuppered for today.

Mr Juncker said the meeting was "friendly and constructive".

He went on: "I have to say that she's a tough negotiator, and not an easy one, and she's defending the point of view of Britain with all the energy we know she has, and this is the same on the side of the European Union.

"Despite our best efforts and significant progress we and our teams have made over the past days on the three main withdrawal issues, it was not possible to reach a complete agreement today.

"We now have a common understanding on most relevant issues, with just two or three open for discussion.

"These will require further consultation, further negotiation and further discussions.

"We stand ready to resume the negotiations with the United Kingdom here in Brussels later this week.

"But I have to say that we were narrowing our positions to a huge extent today, thanks to the British Prime Minister, thanks to the willingness of the European Commission to have a fair deal with Britain.

"I'm still confident that we can reach sufficient progress before the European Council of December 15.

"This is not a failure, this is the start of the very last round. I'm very confident that we will reach an agreement in the course of this week."

Earlier, Tanaiste Simon Coveney said he believed that the post-Brexit border will be "invisible" with "no barriers" and "will look very much like it looks today".

How to maintain a soft Irish border has emerged as the key sticking point to getting agreement from the EU to move on to phase two in Brexit negotiations, but European Council President Donald Tusk said on Monday that progress was "getting closer".

The exact details of the deal remain unclear. However, it is being suggested that under the terms, there would be "full alignment" of regulatory issues.

Regulatory alignment could mean both Ireland and Northern Ireland following the same rules governing trade, to ensure that goods can continue to move freely across a "soft" border with no checks.

Labour Party Leader Brendan Howlin responded to today's talks and said that the obvious solution to the Brexit talks now is for the UK as a whole to "accept the need to remain within the single market and customs union to maintain regulatory alignment".

"The Labour Party has consistently supported the position adopted by the Irish Government on the assurances required by the people of this island from the British Government to ensure Brexit does the minimum possible damage to our hard won political and economic stability," Mr Howlin said.

"We do so in full recognition of the rejection of Brexit by the people of Northern Ireland.

"So I share the disappointment expressed by the Taoiseach on the inability of the British Government to deliver upon the agreed position of this morning.

"I agree too that Ireland does not want to see a hard border between our island and Britain.

"The solution to this problem is obvious and involves the UK as a whole accepting the need to remain within the single market and customs union – a position supported by the political representatives of Wales, Scotland and London today.

"And an issue not determined by the Brexit referendum. This would achieve the regulatory alignment that is needed to avoid a hard border.

"The resiling by the British Government from a position it had agreed now means this process has reached a fundamental crisis.

"I remain hopeful that an agreement can be achieved, but as the Government has said, there has been no hidden agenda from Ireland both before the referendum and since on our objectives which is to secure the future of the Good Friday Agreement and avoid a hard border." 

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