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I'll fight Northern Ireland's corner in EU: Contender for Taoiseach Leo Varadka

By Cormac McQuinn

Irish minister Leo Varadkar will push to keep Northern Ireland in the EU Single Market as a part of his Brexit strategy should he win the contest to succeed Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.

Seeking special arrangements for Northern Ireland to ensure an "invisible" border is among five key principles in Mr Varadkar's plan for responding to Brexit, it has emerged.

Mr Kenny is expected to outline his intentions for stepping down at a party meeting on Wednesday.

Both Mr Varadkar, the social protection minister, and his main rival in the upcoming leadership contest, housing minister Simon Coveney, are understood to be poised to launch their campaigns this week.

However, Mr Kenny may once again confound expectations in Fine Gael on how long he'll remain in office.

Senior sources have said they believe Mr Kenny intends to represent the Republic at the next European Council meeting on June 22.

That's when Brexit negotiations will get under way in earnest, as the summit will be attended by the winner of the general election, widely expected to be Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party.

Mr Varadkar delivered a speech in Co Donegal over the weekend where he said there should be "no economic border at all between North and South".

He said if there are to be any customs checks they should be at the ports and airports, but that the Republic should advocate for Northern Ireland to stay in the Customs Union and Single Market.

Mr Varadkar wants to protect long-standing citizenship rights between the Republic and the UK, including arrangements relating to work and access to public services.

He also wants to maintain an "invisible border" including arguing for Northern Ireland to remain in the Single Market.

Other EU schemes Mr Varadkar wants Northern Ireland to maintain include access to the Common Agriculture Policy and the Erasmus student exchange programme.

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