No progress in any way has been made on avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, “disappointed” EU leaders have concluded.
As a result, all EU states will now step up preparations for a ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario, given the lack of progress made, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said.
Speaking in Brussels at the end of the EU summit, he made it clear that Ireland and the EU are not willing to concede any ground which would allow Britain cherrypick which parts of the EU it would like to remain part of after Brexit next March.
“Think what would be involved,” said Mr Varadkar. “It would involve the UK having the benefit of one of the four freedoms which is access to free market for goods but not for services or capital, which would be important for the financial services sector, and not free movement of labour.
“If that principle was to be conceded, I am sure there would be right-wing and eurosceptic populist parties in every second country in Europe saying: ‘We want the same deal. We want two freedoms, we want three and a half, we want one.’
“That would really be the beginning of the end of the single market. We really regret that the UK has decided to leave the European Union. We are not going to let them destroy the European
Mr Varadkar confirmed that he is to bring details of those contingency plans to Cabinet in 10 days’ time, but insists he is not willing to accept anything that would lead to the return of a hard border with the North.
“I want to emphasise this is the Government applying a precautionary principle for a scenario we don’t think is going to happen,” he said. “But it is still prudent to plan for a worst-case scenario.
“That is something we are simply not contemplating and everyone understands here in Brussels and in London. It is not being planned for, and we won’t agree to anything that gives rise to a hard border on our island.
“And if we do end up in a no-deal scenario then we will have to talk to our EU partners about that. But bear in mind, such a scenario would only arise if the UK decided to diverge in terms of regulation of customs arrangements. So they would be the ones causing it.”
The Taoiseach and British prime minister Theresa May held a 30-minute meeting during which Mrs May outlined some details of a White Paper she will be publishing next month on the future relationship she expects to have with the EU post-Brexit.
Asked if he got any sense of progress being made, Mr Varadkar said: “I think there will be progress over the coming weeks, because there has to be. You know, time is running out. It’s in absolutely nobody’s interest that we end up in a no-deal scenario. Britain and Ireland would have the most to lose from that but all of Europe would lose as well. So I think there does have to be progress.”
“What she said to me is that she hoped it would form the basis for negotiations on the final status treaty and I said I hoped it would too.
“If it’s still in that space then, unfortunately, it isn’t going to be the basis for negotiation but let’s hope that’s not the case.”
Speaking in Cork, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said negotiating with the British has been difficult.
“One of the most frustrating things for Michel Barnier’s team, for me, for the Taoiseach, and for others, is that really Britain has been negotiating with itself for the last six months,” said Mr Coveney.
“They have not been negotiating with the EU on some of these core issues.
“We have to reassure people that there will be border infrastructure on the island of Ireland.”
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