Wednesday 21 August 2019

May stonewalled Varadkar on border deal for the North

Prime minister 'moved the conversation' on when Taoiseach raised prospect of regulatory union

Leo Varadkar shows his socks to British PM Theresa May in Gothenburg. Picture: AP
Leo Varadkar shows his socks to British PM Theresa May in Gothenburg. Picture: AP
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was stonewalled by British Prime Minister Theresa May when he pushed for a special customs deal for Northern Ireland during the crucial Brexit talks in Sweden last week.

New details of the meeting have emerged this weekend which reveal how the gap between the two countries on the Northern Ireland border continues to grow ahead of a crunch EU summit in December.

At the behind-closed-doors talks in Gothenburg, Mr Varadkar stood firm on the Government's demand that the Brexit negotiations would not move to the next stage until the Northern Ireland border issue is resolved.

The Taoiseach told Mrs May that Ireland was not willing to take a "leap in the dark" on the border and would need clarity on the issue if the Government was to back phase two of the talks.

Mrs May said she believed it would be possible to address "some of Ireland's concerns" ahead of the next EU summit but provided no details on how a border can be avoided once Britain leaves the EU.

The Taoiseach urged the prime minister to consider some form of a regulatory customs union between Ireland and Northern Ireland to lessen the economic damage on business owners on both sides of the border.

Mr Varadkar told Mrs May it would not have to be called a customs union due to "sensitivities" in the UK over the term but insisted some form of shared regulation on goods and services quality would be needed.

However, sources said Mrs May gave no indication that she was open to the proposal.

"They heard what the Taoiseach said. They didn't respond by saying that's something we are interested in. They just moved the conversation on to something else," the source said.

The source said Mrs May put "no details" on the table on the border and her stance remained largely unchanged from recent comments on the issue.

After the talks, Mr Varadkar was critical of the UK's approach and said: "Sometimes it doesn't feel like they have thought all of this through."

The Government is becoming increasingly frustrated with the UK's lack of detail on how the border issue will be addressed post-Brexit.

A senior government source said Ireland has the backing of all EU members to stand firm on the border.

The UK wants to maintain tariff-free trade with Ireland and the rest of the EU while also arranging independent trade deals with other countries. However, this scenario is not acceptable to other member states as they fear it will lead to products and services below EU standards flooding the union.

"They want tariff-free trade but want to be able to negotiate trade deals with other people. There's a problem with that because you negotiate deals with different standards and those products and goods come into the UK which are outside," a government source said.

Negotiations will continue behind the scenes ahead of the meeting in December but agreement on phase two may not be reached until the new year.

Sunday Independent

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