Varadkar gives 'cautious welcome' to Theresa May's Brexit speech
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has given a "cautious welcome" to a speech in Florence by British Prime Minister Theresa May, who called for Britain to stay in the single market under its current terms during a two-year transition period.
"I'd give the speech a cautious welcome. I think it is a genuine effort by the prime minister to move things along and make progress," Varadkar told journalists in Co Louth today.
"We will of course need further clarity and further understanding as to how a transition period might work. But requesting a transition period is also a step in the right direction," he said.
Varadkar said he was particularly happy about May's reassertion of support for protections for Northern Ireland's Good Friday peace deal and for a frictionless border between Ireland and Northern Ireland with no physical infrastructure.
The Fine Gael leader was speaking after Theresa May set out plans for a two-year implementation period to smooth the Brexit process and promised to honour the UK's commitments to the EU's budget as she sought to end the deadlock over Britain's break from Brussels.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has also issued a response to the speech.
“I welcome the additional clarity provided by Theresa May in her speech in Florence this afternoon. The speech is a positive contribution towards making progress on phase one issues – citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and Irish issues," he said.
"This is needed to enable the UK and the EU to move forward to the important next phase...The key thing now is that today’s comments by Prime Minister May are translated into deliverables across the negotiating table in Brussels.”
"Ultimately Ireland wants: the gains of the peace process protected, including avoiding a hard border; an orderly UK withdrawal; a sufficiently long and non-disruptive transition arrangement; and the closest possible EU-UK future relationship, including in trade, which minimises to the greatest extent possible the impact on the Irish economy.”
The UK Prime Minister said neither the Government nor the EU would be ready to fully implement new arrangements for Brexit on March 29 2019 when the UK formally leaves.
She proposed an implementation period during which "the existing structure of EU rules and regulations" would apply - and people from the EU would continue to be able to "live and work" in the UK under a registration scheme.
"As of today, these considerations point to an implementation period of around two years," she said, although in some areas changes to new arrangements could be made more quickly.
In relation to Ireland she also said there are "unique issues to consider when it comes to Northern Ireland".
She said the British and Irish governments, and the EU as a whole, have made it clear that progress made in Northern Ireland in recent years would be protected.
She said: "We and the EU have committed to protecting the Belfast Agreement and the Common Travel area.
"Looking ahead we have both stated explicitly that we will not accept any physical infrastructure at the border. We owe it to the people of Northern Ireland, and indeed to everyone on the island of Ireland, to see through these commitments."
The Prime Minister also used the landmark 35-minute speech in Florence to call for a "bold new strategic agreement" in a treaty on security as a sign of the UK's continued commitment to the continent.
Mrs May said there would be a "clear double lock" to the implementation period - giving businesses the certainty to plan for change and a guarantee that the temporary transitional arrangements "will not go on for ever".
In an attempt to break the deadlock over the UK's financial settlement, Mrs May promised the UK would honour its commitments under the existing budget period, which lasts until 2020, and continue to participate in some other programmes on areas including science, education and culture beyond Brexit.
Although she said some of the claims made about money were "exaggerated and unhelpful", the Prime Minister stuck by her position that a financial settlement could only be part of a wider deal - rather than a hurdle to clear before trade talks, as the EU insists.
But she added: "I do not want our partners to fear that they will need to pay more or receive less over the remainder of the current budget plan as a result of our decision to leave. The UK will honour commitments we have made during the period of our membership.
"And as we move forwards, we will also want to continue working together in ways that promote the long-term economic development of our continent."