Taoiseach: 'We’re not going to be preparing for a hard border'

By Daniel McConnell, Political Editor, in Brussels

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he will not accept any land border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

Speaking in Brussels at the start of what was meant to be a key Brexit summit, Mr Varadkar confirmed the Government is making preparations at our ports and airports in case Britain cannot agree on a deal ahead of March next year.

He said: “I should say we are not preparing for any kind of land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We trust the assurances of the UK and of the EU that that won't happen.”

However, if we have a no deal Brexit, which is unlikely but it is possible, then the UK will essentially crash out of the customs union and the single market, he said.

It will not be able to trade freely anymore with any part of the EU. It will be losing access to a market of 500 million people and that would require us to make preparations in our ports and our airports for that kind of scenario.

“That is the kind of thing we will be doing. Other countries will be doing it too, it is not just an issue for Ireland, it is just as an important issue in Rotterdam or Calais or the ports in the Netherlands, Belguim and France. So we will have to make preparations for that, even though it is a very unlikely scenario. Any responsible government has to make those preparations,” he said.

Mr Varadkar, in response to a question from the Irish Examiner, said that no meaningful progress has yet been made by Britain on the Irish issue. He added the deadline for the withdrawal agreement has always been October and that has been the case since day one.

“However, we did expect that we would make more progress, or any progress really, we expected there would be progress at this summit in June, like there was in March, like there was in December,” he said.

“There hasn't been. So what I will be saying to Prime Minister May is that we all need to intensify our efforts now. All of us want there to be a deal. We need a deal. Europe needs a deal, Britain needs a deal too. As we agreed back in December and in March, there can be no withdrawal agreement without an agreement on the Irish backstop,” he added.

When asked what his belief of a no deal scenario was, Mr Varadkar said:

When it comes to a hard border between Northern and Ireland my understanding is very simple – we don’t want it, Britain doesn’t want it and the European Union doesn’t want it, so we’re not going to be preparing for a hard border on the island of Ireland and we’re not going to agree to anything that would give rise to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

“Lookit, I’m not here to be telling Theresa May anything. She’s prime minister of the country next door, we’re going to need to work together, we do have shared objectives, that is to absolutely avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and also to enable free trade to continue between the UK Ireland and the rest of Europe so we’re going to be trying to work together,” he said.

On her way in, British Prime Minister Theresa May said she is seeking more flexibility from the EU and said her government is striving to avoid a no deal scenario.

In response, to Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin's comments that he seems to think he has a divine right to govern, Mr Varadkar hit back at what he said was Fianna Fail's ever-changing commitment to the Confidence and Supply deal.

“I don’t want to get involved in a tit for tat today, I’m here in Brussels doing important work on behalf of the Irish people. All I say is that Fianna Fail has been sending a lot of mixed messages about the Confidence and Supply agreement,” he said.

“Last month they were openly talking about voting in favour of a motion of no confidence in the housing minister. This month they’re talking about not voting for the budget so we really need to understand whether or not Fianna Fail is committed to the Confidence and Supply agreement in the long term,” he said.

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