Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that Ireland “cannot contemplate” a hard Brexit situation which will create a physical border with Northern Ireland amid growing fears Britain could crash out of the EU without a deal.
Speaking as Britain’s new foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt and senior EU negotiators indicated the prospect of a hard Brexit is becoming increasingly likely, Mr Varadkar insisted the situation would be the worst possible outcome for Ireland.
On the first day of an official visit to Croatia, Romania, and Italy to shore up support for Ireland’s Brexit position, Mr Varadkar told reporters the EU must continue to have “unity” on the issue.
Asked during a joint press conference with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic in Zagreb about the growing risk of a no-deal hard Brexit, Mr Varadkar said the situation must be avoided.
“I think everyone understands Ireland’s position when it comes to the physical border between north and south. It’s just something that we cannot contemplate,” he said.
Mr Plenkovic said he believes Brexit is a “lose, lose, lose situation” and hit out at “populists” who pushed for the vote for trying to “manipulate” voters.
“I deeply disagree with everything they stand for,” said the prime minister, adding that people “like Mr Farage” tried to “meddle” in Croatia’s referendum to enter the EU, and that his country continues to support Ireland’s interests.
The comments came as Mr Hunt, appointed after Boris Johnson’s resignation earlier this month, warned that Britain could sleepwalk into a no-deal hard Brexit unless agreements are made now.
Mr Hunt said the “no deal by accident” scenario would open a “fissure” that could last for a generation, and that “more flexibility and creativity” is needed to resolve the matter.
Mr Hunt was speaking before a meeting with his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, and as new Brexit secretary Dominic Raab claimed Britain will refuse to pay its near €40bn EU debt if no deal is struck.
High-level negotiations between the EU and the UK are due to take place in the coming days, while a British Irish Intergovernmental Conference meeting is set for tomorrow.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald yesterday met with EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels to urge the EU not to back down in its support for Ireland.
Ms McDonald said after the meeting that Mr Barnier gave her “assurances” the EU will not change its position and continues to support Ireland’s push for a backstop deal agreed in March to be included in any final deal.
She repeated her view — shared by former taoiseach Enda Kenny — that an extra EU summit must take place in September to ensure a Brexit deal is agreed by the October cut-off point, saying it is vital in order to protect Ireland’s interests.
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