Taoiseach says Ireland is being 'victimised' by Brexit process and warns soldiers may return to border

Taoiseach says Ireland is being 'victimised' by Brexit process and warns soldiers may return to border
Leo Varadkar attended a session of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, yesterday. Photo: Gian Ehrenzeller/Keystone via AP.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said Ireland is being 'victimised' by the Brexit process.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV from Davos, Mr Varadkar said it was the UK's responsibility to find a solution to end the Brexit impasse and avoid a no-deal scenario.

"The UK wanted a review clause in the backstop and we agreed to that, the UK wanted a UK-wide element, so why is it the country that is being victimised is the one that's always asked to give?," he said.

"We're the ones already giving."

Going into further detail on what Northern Ireland would look like in the event of a hard border between north and south, Mr Varadkar gave a stark description.

"It would involve customs posts. It would involve people in uniform and it may involve the need, for example, for cameras, physical infrastructure, possibly a police presence, or an army presence to back it up.

"The problem with that in the context of Irish politics and history is those things become targets - and we've already had a certain degree of violence in the last few weeks.

"I just don't want to see that come back," he said.

The Taoiseach, who was speaking at the World Economic Forum this week, said that the impetus was on the UK government to change its red lines in order to reach a deal with the European Union.

"We have always been open to compromise and we have always been willing to listen to any proposals that the UK government may have, and as the EU has said on several occasions, if the UK was willing to change its red lines then of course our position could evolve," he said.

"Let's not forget that this withdrawal agreement is an agreement that was drawn around all the self-imposed red lines that the UK set for itself, leaving the customs union, leaving the single market, and not accepting the jurisdiction of the ECJ and the backstop was designed with them."

He said Ireland would have been happy to accept a backstop that only applied to Northern Ireland, that didn't apply to Britain, but "the UK government specifically wanted a UK element to it".

Mr Varadkar spoke of the impact a no-deal would have on Northern Ireland, including the potential effect it would have on the peace process.

"I know a lot of people, when they talk about Brexit, they talk about the impact on trade and jobs and the economy and immigration and all those things that are important, but for Ireland, it's something very different.

"We have peace in Ireland and Northern Ireland, closer cooperation north and south and powersharing most of the time, and at the heart of that was the European Union, because EU membership swept away so many of the differences between north and south and between people.

"What we're looking for, what we've been looking for from day one, is an assurance that Brexit decision that the UK has made, one that was made against the wishes of the people in Northern Ireland, one that Ireland was not consulted about.

We want a legal guarantee and an operable mechanism which will ensure we don't lose all the progress that has been made in the last 20 years in Ireland in terms of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement.

"We don't want that to be undermined, and what the backstop is is a means to an end."

When asked about the potential for technology to solve the border issue, the Taoiseach said he has yet to see any viable options.

"I have yet to have anyone demonstrate to me a technology that can look into a truck and tell me whether there's hormones in the beef or not," he said.

"The objective is avoiding a hard border. The backstop is the means by which we achieve that.

"Why would we give up a legal guarantee, and something that we know will work in practice, for a promise to sort it out later, or a promise to invent technologies that don't exist yet, that will work that's legally binding. That's just not a serious position."

What's envisaged if this agreement is ratified, isn't any walls, what's envisaged is that any checks that might have to be done, checking animals, checking food products, checking goods, would be done at the ports and airports, done in Dublin, Rosslare, Cork, Belfast, and that's a very different picture.

"A lot of these checks already happen in ports and airports, it would be more than currently exists, but it would allow us to avoid physical infrastructure on the land border, bearing in mind this is a land border that goes through farms, goes through villages," he said.

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