Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin has called on Fine Gael to “stop the silly attacks” on Brexit and confirmed that his party colleague, MEP Billy Kelleher, will be voting in favour of the Brexit Withdrawal agreement later this month.
Mr Kelleher had said last week that he could not vote for the agreement as it currently stands unless guarantees regarding the status of EU citizens in Northern Ireland were delivered, describing the issue as “a red line issue for me”.
That statement had led to a series of focused attacks from Fine Gael regarding Fianna Fáil’s credibility on Brexit, with both Minister for European Affairs Helen McEntee and the Taoiseach taking aim over the issue today.
Ms McEntee called on Fianna Fáil to clarify Kelleher’s remarks, saying that he was tacitly endorsing a “no-deal crashout” just 16 days ahead of the crucial vote.
“It will be interesting to hear from leadership within Fianna Fáil as to exactly what the people of Ireland can expect from them in relation to Brexit,” she said, saying the issue represented “yet another example of a Fianna Fáil party with no coherent plans for the country”.
Mr Varadkar meanwhile, speaking at his party’s campaign launch in Monaghan, said that Mr Kelleher’s statement proved that Fianna Fáil “can’t be trusted on the big issue of Brexit”.
The Fianna Fáil leader bit back this morning however, and said that in Europe, and in Ireland, there was an appreciation of the fact his party had “given the Government space to negotiate”.
“To then turn around after all of that and say you’re not trustworthy on Brexit is just plain silly,” he said.
He described Mr Kelleher as “a parliamentarian in the first instance, and anything going through parliament deserves scrutiny”.
“He will be voting for the withdrawal treaty, but (EU Brexit negotiator) Guy Herhofstadt and his team will be going to London next week on that very specific point, and it’s an important point,” Mr Martin said, adding that “our bona fides on Brexit I don’t think can be questioned”.
Regarding Mr Varadkar’s performance on Brexit, something Fine Gael is hoping to gain electoral capital from given the proximity of the vote date to the coming election, Mr Martin said that Boris Johnson’s deal is a worse one for Ireland than that of his predecessor Theresa May.
“That’s probably not getting the degree of examination that it should, because (May’s) deal would have kept Britain in the Customs Union,” he said.
“Boris Johnson’s deal is a much harder Brexit… but there’s a long way to go on Brexit. We’ll be discussing Brexit for the next 10 years.”
“But the bottom line is Ireland had a good strong national consensus on (Brexit). It stood us well as a country, and in our negotiations with Europe and Great Britain,” he added.