Leo Varadkar: EU should relax on Brexit red lines

The EU should be “flexible” on its red-line Brexit issues if British Prime Minister Theresa May is to force through her Chequers plan for a soft Brexit, according to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Mr Varadkar opened up the possibility of calming tensions between the EU and Britain as he said Ms May’s plan is a potential “pathway” to resolving the Brexit stand-off despite a flurry of high-profile resignations.

During leaders’ questions in the Dáil yesterday, Mr Varadkar said while the drama of recent days has dominated attention, he still believes the Chequers statement from Britain represents significant progress on Brexit.

Saying Ms May appears to be trying to soften her stance, Mr Varadkar said if she is willing and able to change her position, then the EU must be willing to do so as well.

“The Chequers statement is welcome. I believe it can input into talks on the future relationship, although we would like to see the white paper [on the same issue due from London in the next week] first,” he said.

“On the face of what we see, it can input into the talks on the future relationship. It is welcome and, as we have always said in the past, if the UK was able to relax some of its red lines then the EU should be flexible too.

“Perhaps we are now entering into that space,” he said.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin asked if last week’s Chequers statement represents a “pathway” to a soft Brexit.

Mr Varadkar said it is too early to draw any definitive conclusions, in part because of the ongoing crisis in the British government, but added that it “may produce a credible pathway towards further negotiations” if the key points of the initial three-page Chequers statement are developed in the 100-page white paper.

Mr Varadkar also confirmed he and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz discussed the possibility of holding a special EU27 meeting in September before the October Brexit negotiations deadline.

The move was first suggested last month by former taoiseach Enda Kenny in order to reduce the pressure on forging a last-minute deal in October.

Asked by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and Labour counterpart Brendan Howlin if the meeting is being considered, Mr Varadkar said EU leaders are provisionally open to the September meeting. “That is possible,” he said.

“The 28 heads of state and the Government are meeting in Salzburg in September. This will be hosted by the Austrian presidency for an informal EU Council meeting.

“I discussed [with Mr Kurz] on Sunday the possibility of upgrading that meeting to include a formal discussion on article 50. That is a possibility, and I know it was discussed between Prime Minister May and Chancellor Angela Merkel as well.”

 

Yesterday’s Dáil debate had earlier heard repeated criticism from opposition parties over the drama in Britain caused by the resignations of Brexit secretary David Davis and foreign secretary Boris Johnson in recent days.

Criticised over an alleged lack of focus on ensuring the December “cast-iron” backstop deal, Mr Varadkar told Ms McDonald that he is “not hung up” on legal issues.


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