EU plans Ireland supports in case of hard Brexit

Europe is planning to redirect hundreds of millions of euro to Ireland in the case of a hard Brexit, EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has confirmed.

Mr Juncker delivered a clear message to the British government when he addressed a joint sitting of the Dáil and Seanad by stating that “Ireland’s border is Europe’s border — and is our union’s priority”.

In a historic speech, Mr Juncker echoed president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, by stating the EU will put “Ireland first” and will do everything possible to protect the border with the North.

But Mr Juncker, who was accompanied by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, said: “As the clock to Brexit ticks down, we must prepare for every eventuality, including no deal.

“This is neither a desired nor a likely outcome. But it is not an impossible one and we are getting ready just in case.”

While Mr Juncker said some progress has been made in Brexit negotiations, especially on issues linked to the orderly withdrawal of the UK, he warned that the “hardest parts” still must be hammered out.

EU leaders had initially hoped to sign off on a solution to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit by the June council meeting next week, however, with talks stalled Mr Juncker said contingency plans were being developed.

“We will use all the tools at our disposal which could have a cushioning impact,” he said.

“The new long-term budget for our union from 2021 onwards has an in-built flexibility that could allow us to redirect funds if the situation arose.

“We will also earmark €120m for a new peace programme which has done so much in breaking down barriers between communities in Northern Ireland and the border counties.

“I see no better use of the European budget than financing peace and community values.”

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warned British prime minister Theresa May she is running out of time to agree a workable Brexit.

“Let me be blunt,” said Mr Varadkar. “There isn’t much time left if we are to conclude an agreement and have it operational by the time the United Kingdom leaves the EU next March.

“Our EU partners are absolutely steadfast in their backing for us.”

The Taoiseach said that the British government gave the EU “a cast-iron guarantee of no hard border” back in December, adding “a withdrawal agreement without the backstop is of no use whatsoever”.

Mr Varadkar also met former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton yesterday who is in Dublin to receive an honorary doctorate from Trinity College today.

Ms Clinton paid a courtesy call to the Taoiseach during which they had a wide-ranging conversation on a range of issues including world affairs and gender equality.

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