Thursday 22 August 2019

People in the North will 'question the union' if no-deal Brexit goes ahead - Varadkar

  • Taoiseach still hasn't spoken to new UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
  • Varadkar adds that UK alone will be to blame for hard Brexit
  • Tanaiste describes Johnson comments on backstop as 'unhelpful'
Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar
Priti Patel has previously suggested threatening Ireland with food shortages. Photo: PA
New Prime Minister Boris Johnson returning to Downing Street, London after visiting the Houses of Parliament. Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that more and more people in the North “will come to question the union” in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Varadkar has also signalled that the government would have to consider a white paper or a forum on Irish unity in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but cautioned that to do so now would be “provocative”.

However, it emerged tonight that the Taoiseach has still to speak to Boris Johnson since he took over the role of British Prime Minister.

Asked tonight if the pair had spoken, a spokesman for Mr Vardkar said : "Not at this point."

Earlier today, the Taoiseach told the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, that a hard Brexit under Mr Johnson “raises very serious questions about the future of Northern Ireland”.

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Priti Patel has previously suggested threatening Ireland with food shortages. Photo: PA

He said he didn’t know if he would see a united Ireland in his lifetime, but that liberal protestants and unionists would start to question whether they feel at home in Britain that is talking about the return of the death penalty - a reference to previous remarks made by new Home Secretary Priti Patel.

“I do think more and more people certainly in the event of no deal, more and more people in Northern Ireland will come to question the union," he said.

“People who you might describe as moderate Catholics or moderate nationalists who are more or less happy with the status quo will look more towards a united Ireland. I think increasingly you will see liberal protestants and liberal unionists starting to ask the question as to where they feel more at home.

“Is it in a nationalist Britain that’s talking about potentially bringing back the death penalty and things like that? Or is it part of a common European home and part of Ireland?

“I think one of the things ironically that could really undermine the union is a hard Brexit, both for Northern Ireland and for Scotland. That’s a problem they’re going to have to face.”

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New Prime Minister Boris Johnson returning to Downing Street, London after visiting the Houses of Parliament. Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Mr Varadkar also said that while the DUP are “in a privileged position at the moment” in holding the balance of power in Westminster, they must be “smart enough to realise that the kind of influence they have now is probably not going to last very long”.

The Taoiseach added that the UK alone would be to blame for a no-deal situation as the Irish government struck a more critical tone with the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday.

Speaking later at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, Mr Varadkar said: “If the UK leaves on 31 October that is their choice. There may be an attempt in the United Kingdom, to somehow blame European Union, or somehow blame Irish inflexibility, that is totally wrong.

“The UK can stop no deal at any time, they can revoke Article 50, it can request an extension for a good reason, it can ratify the withdrawal agreement. So if no deal happens on the 31 October, whatever consequences are for the British economy, for the union and for Ireland, they will be things they brought on themselves.”

Mr Varadkar repeated that there would be no Brexit deal without the backstop and that removing it would be the same as a no-deal scenario.

He said that the Irish government should be “wise to the possibility” that the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson may call a snap general election in September, October or November. His remarks came shortly before Mr Johnson ruled out a pre-October 31st poll.

In a further jab at the political turmoil in Britain, Mr Varadkar said the political stability in Ireland since the general election in 2016 was crucial with Brexit looming. “Most people including myself believed that it wouldn’t last very long and we’re now on our third British Prime Minister already. There could be a fourth yet, who knows.” 

Mr Varadkar said that Mr Johnson had demonstrated flexibility and, to laughter from the audience, noted he had voted both for and against the withdrawal deal.

“The real thing I would like to do is just get a sense from him as to what he’s thinking and what his plans are. He’s demonstrated a degree, I think, of flexibility in the past having voted both for and against the withdrawal agreement. I don’t think he’s going to be entirely inflexible in the future,” he said.

“Dealing with counterparts you really only get a proper sense of where they’re going and what their real red lines are in kind of tete a tete, the real one to one meeting that you do either before or after you meet with officials.

He said he looked forward to “getting the measure of the man” and hearing what his plans are. 

Mr Varadkar also told the audience in Glenties of his belief that the withdrawal agreement would have been ratified if former British Prime Minister Theresa May had not called a snap general election in 2017 or if she had won a majority in that election.

Meanwhile a visit to Stormont to meet the new Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith, Mr Coveney hit out at the new Prime Minister, saying: “I think the statements of the British prime minister in the House of Commons were very unhelpful to this process. I think he seems to have made a deliberate decision to set Britain on a collision course with the European Union and with Ireland in relation to the Brexit negotiations.”

Online Editors

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