Leo Varadkar warns ‘time is running out’ on Brexit deal

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned Britain’s prime minister Theresa May that “time is running out” on securing a soft-border Brexit deal. A leaked Government report has found that a hard Brexit will wipe €18bn off the Irish economy and cost as many as 20,000 jobs.

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

Increasing pressure on the British government before the two leaders meet in Belfast today to discuss the separate Stormont stalemate, Mr Varadkar yesterday backed EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier’s tough stance by saying “clarity and urgency” were needed on Brexit now.

“I wouldn’t say [the coming weeks are] the last chance, but time is running out,” Mr Varadkar told RTÉ Radio’s This Week programme. “It is 20 months since the referendum, 20 years since some of them started campaigning, and we still don’t know what Brexit means. We need clarity and urgency from them.”

The Government is about to publish a detailed independent report on the economic impact of a hard Brexit on Ireland. A no-deal situation may wipe €18bn off the Irish economy and cost 20,000 jobs by 2030.

The report, drawn up by the Copenhagen Economists group, for the Department of Business and Employment, will be discussed by a cabinet sub-committee this evening, before being signed-off on by cabinet tomorrow.

Leaked findings from the report, seen by the Irish Examiner, show that in the event of a hard Brexit, the Irish economy stands to lose €18bn and 20,000 jobs.

That is double the amount of jobs lost in a soft Brexit scenario, with the agriculture, tourism, retail, and pharmaceutical sectors worst affected.

While the Government is putting in place special Brexit protection funds to help businesses at risk, opposition parties, last night, criticised the plans, with Fianna Fáil defence spokeswoman Lisa Chambers telling RTÉ the Government is “sleep-walking” into a crisis.

Meanwhile, British international development secretary Penny Mordaunt has said Ms May will put “some meat on the bones” of her Brexit plan in a series of speeches over the next three weeks. “What the public want is they want the vision and they want some meat on the bones,” she told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr show.

The latest Brexit developments emerged as it was confirmed, last night, that Mr Varadkar and Ms May will meet in Belfast, later today, amid ongoing talks on how to resolve the Sinn Féin-DUP Stormont stalemate.

It is believed both parties are close to an agreement. Obstacles, including the Irish Language Act and the closeness of any deal to Gerry Adams’ departure as Sinn Féin leader, are understood to have delayed the process.

Mr Varadkar and Ms May are expected to urge a breakthrough on the issue, during meetings today, when they will privately discuss the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

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