‘No-deal hard Brexit can be avoided’, Taoiseach says

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted he still believes a no-deal hard Brexit can be avoided.

The Taoiseach also reiterated that any possible alternative to the backstop agreement on the Irish border must be as good or better than what was already agreed.

Asked if the prospect of the UK crashing out of the EU was now closer to becoming a reality, he said: “I don’t, I am very confident that we will avoid a no-deal hard Brexit scenario. Nevertheless, we must prepare for that possibility no matter how remote it is.

“But if we are going to come up with a solution, a withdrawal agreement with a transition period, with a framework for a new relationship, with a backstop (for Northern Ireland), time is short.”

He was also asked about recent comments by British prime minister Theresa May in which she appeared to veer even farther away from the backstop agreement struck only last December.

“It is not for me to interpret what other people say,” said the Taoiseach. “I imagine prime minister May will answer questions on that herself.

“Suffice to say that as far as the Irish Government is concerned we don’t want any barriers to trade or a border north-south or east-west,” he said.

“Obviously the best way that can be avoided is for the UK, as a whole, including Northern Ireland, staying within the EU single market and customs union.

“They have decided they don’t want to do that so we need to come up with an alternative.”

He said the backstop which the EU put forward in March is “workable” and gives the guarantee needed that there will be no hard border between north and south under any circumstances.

“If the UK has alternative proposals as to how we can achieve that, we are very happy to consider them,” he said.

“But the proposal they have produced so far doesn’t quite do that because it is time limited and it does not cover the issue of regulatory alignment.

“We are open to discussions on a backstop that achieves what we want it to achieve. But it must be better or the same as we have proposed.”

Mr Varadkar said the UK had been consistent that it doesn’t accept the backstop that the EU proposed back in March.

“The onus now is on them to bring forward proposals that are workable,” he said. “We are very happy to talk about the wording of the backstop but the outcome must be the same.

“The outcome must be that in all circumstances that there won’t be a hard border between north and south,” he said.

Mr Varadkar was speaking at the opening of a €3.75m feed mill extension at Drinagh Co-Op, in the company of Junior Minister Jim Daly, MEP Sean Kelly, and local politicians.

The crowd in attendance heard that the facility will be able to better provide for farmers and other co-ops in the event of a fresh fodder crisis, while Mr Varadkar also spoke of the history of West Cork and made reference to the Dunmanway killings of April 1922, adding: “In some families and communities silence was the path chosen for remembrance, but that is no longer the case.”

This story originally appeared in the Irish Examiner

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