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Brexit: Varadkar tells of frustration after UK pulls plug at last minute

By PA Reporters

Leo Varadkar expressed surprise and disappointment after claiming the UK pulled the plug on an agreement to progress Brexit talks.

The Taoiseach said the UK Government agreed a key concession on the Irish border yesterday morning, only to step away from that commitment later in the day, asking for more time, after pressure from the DUP.

The Fine Gael leader expressed hope that the deal could still be concluded by the end of the week, insisting he still trusted Prime Minister Theresa May.

"I am surprised and disappointed that the British Government now appears not to be in a position to conclude what was agreed earlier today," he said at a news conference in Dublin.

Mr Varadkar claimed the UK had agreed that Northern Ireland would continue to comply with EU regulations post-Brexit, thus facilitating the operation of the current open border between north and south.

But the Fine Gael leader said Mrs May had a change of heart during lunchtime talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Mr Varadkar said it was important that the views of the DUP were heard, but he stressed the need for all opinions in Northern Ireland to be factored in. In an apparent reference to the referendum result in the region, where 56% voted remain, he said it was important the majority opinion was heard.

He also rejected claims by the DUP that the Irish government was using the issue as a way to pursue a united Ireland agenda.

"This is not a new issue, nor has it been given greater prominence in recent weeks, as some people have suggested," he said.

"It has been to the absolute forefront of Ireland's concerns since before the referendum in the United Kingdom. I want to offer the reassurance that there is no hidden agenda here, our only guiding light is the Good Friday Agreement, which clearly states that the constitutional status of Northern Ireland cannot be changed without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland and this is fundamental to our position."

Mr Varadkar had been due to make a public statement at 2.30pm to welcome the agreement that had been struck in the morning in Brussels. That was postponed after the dramatic developments in Belgium and he instead appeared almost three hours later to express frustration. The Taoiseach outlined the chain of events after his cabinet met in Government Buildings in Dublin yesterday morning.

"Following the Government meeting this morning, the Irish negotiating team received confirmation from the British Government and the Barnier task force that the United Kingdom had agreed a text on the border that met our concerns," he said.

"This text would form part of the broader EU UK agreement on phase one and would allow us all to move on to phase two.

"I was then contacted by the President of the European Commission President Juncker and the President of the European Council President Tusk and I confirmed to them both Ireland's agreement to that text."

He said: "We are surprised and disappointed they (the UK government) have not been able to follow through on that agreement as had been planned.

"The text was agreed this morning. We haven't received any request to change that," he said. "I don't see any need for changes. It wasn't easy to come to the agreement that we came to. It was a compromise. I don't see any reason to change the text at this stage."

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