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Taoiseach Varadkar insists Republic won't design border in Ireland for 'Brexiteers'

By Kevin Doyle

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has launched an unprecedented attack on "Brexiteers", warning that the Republic of Ireland will not help create a border that isn't wanted.

In a dramatic shift of policy, Mr Varadkar said Irish people have the right "to be angry" at the UK for risking economic prosperity and the Good Friday Agreement.

He said the Irish Government did not believe there should be any form of economic border between the Republic and Northern Ireland and therefore "we're not going to be helping them to design some sort of border that we don't believe should exist in the first place".

He said: "So let them put forward their proposals as to how they think a border should operate and then we'll ask them if they really think this is such a good idea because I think it will have a very severe impact on their economy if they decide to go down that route."

The statement was met with shock among unionists, with former First Minister David Trimble saying the Taoiseach needs to "calm down".

The British Government said finding a solution to the border question was a "top priority".

A spokesperson added: "As we have always been clear, our guiding principle will be to ensure that - as we leave the EU - no new barriers to living and doing business within the UK are created. We aim to have as frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and we welcome the European Council's recognition that flexible and creative solutions will be required."

Suggestions that the UK/EU frontier could be in the Irish Sea have been rubbished by the DUP, who are propping up Theresa May's Government in Westminster.

The party's leader in Westminster, Nigel Dodds, said: "This apparent hardening of attitudes within the Irish Government is untimely and unhelpful."

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: "The DUP will not countenance or accept a post-Brexit border on the Irish Sea that makes it more difficult to live, work and travel between different parts of the United Kingdom.

"The Prime Minister has already reiterated this in the House of Commons and at Westminster."

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said: "If the Taoiseach thinks he is going to use the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to make a name for himself he should think again."

UUP MEP Jim Nicholson urged Dublin to clarify its position over an "unwanted and unworkable" proposition.

"If this is their position, then it causes a major threat to the Belfast Agreement and would pull it asunder. Such an arrangement would totally undermine the principle of consent," he said.

Mr Varadkar was asked whether he was concerned that by ratcheting up the rhetoric he could upset Downing Street, but bluntly replied: "I hope there won't be any angry response from anyone.

"Anger isn't a policy and anger doesn't lead to solutions. But if anyone is angry it should be us."

The EU will reveal its thinking this autumn on how to preserve the Good Friday Agreement and Common Travel Area after Brexit. EU ambassadors were told this week that Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier's team will come forward with a position paper, most likely in September.

However, amid growing uncertainty over Anglo-Irish relations, the text will not deal with solutions for the border.

The EU paper will focus on the six cross-border implementation bodies set up under the Good Friday Agreement - including the special EU programmes body, which manages EU peace funds - and all-island co-operation on energy, healthcare, education and other areas.

Talks on the border are not planned until a second phase of exit talks, which are likely to be delayed due to differences over Britain's financial obligations.

Both sides had hoped there would be enough progress on money and other phase-one issues by October so talks could move on to trade, but EU diplomats are increasingly pessimistic.

"Autumn will be turbulent," said one source close to the talks. "The UK cannot continue the same tactics."

EU sources were more upbeat on citizens' rights, where some progress was made at a round of Brexit talks earlier this month.

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