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Varadkar keeps open mind over May's redraft of border deal

By Suzanne Breen and Kevin Doyle

The Government is to give Taoiseach Leo Varadkar a new text within 24 hours which it hopes will break the logjam in the Brexit negotiations.

Speaking in Dublin last night, Mr Varadkar pledged to review the fresh wording with an "open mind" but warned that "red line issues" adopted by the Republic remain.

Earlier, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds warned that the Taoiseach was "playing a dangerous game" with the Republic's economy by taking such a tough stand.

In a 15-minute telephone conversation with Mr Varadkar yesterday, Theresa May (right) said that, having consulted with the DUP and officials in London, she was preparing new wording.

Mrs May also spoke to DUP leader Arlene Foster on the telephone.

The party said its negotiators were still continuing to "work through the detail" on the matter with officials in London, adding "there is still work to be done".

The text of the previous agreement the Prime Minister offered Mr Varadkar on Monday was rejected by the DUP who torpedoed the deal believing it amounted to a border in the Irish Sea.

The Taoiseach said while "room to manoeuvre is small", he believed Mrs May was "negotiating in good faith". Agreement has to be reached in advance of next week's EU summit if Brexit negotiations are to move to stage two trade talks.

Following a meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Mr Varadkar adopted a diplomatic tone in a clear attempt to calm tensions which have developed between Dublin, Belfast and London in recent days.

He vowed to work with Mrs May to heal the divisions that had opened up during the Brexit negotiations.

"I wouldn't like to be the Taoiseach, and I know she wouldn't want to be the Prime Minister, who began the unravelling of all that progress that has been made in the past 20 years," he said.

Mr Varadkar stressed that his government had no hidden political agenda but just wanted "normal business and normal people to continue their normal lives".

He warned that Dublin wasn't worried that a border would have to be erected the day after Brexit, but that a "creeping border" would develop over time.

Language wasn't a major problem for the Republic but the outcome was vital and "the risk is over a number of years".

Supporting regulatory alignment, he maintained that while it wasn't an attempt to impose the same laws in Northern Ireland and the Republic, there had to be sufficient alignment so a "border by stealth" didn't develop.

Mr Varadkar again denied a claim by Mrs Foster that Dublin had prevented London from showing her party the text of Monday's deal. "I know it's not true," he said.

The Taoiseach insisted that the accusation made no sense since the British Government wouldn't take instructions from him in the first place. Relations between the DUP and Dublin deteriorated yesterday after Mr Dodds accused Mr Varadkar of playing a "dangerous game" with the Irish economy.

Earlier, with the clock ticking to next Thursday's EU summit, the Taoiseach had warned that London may have to wait until the new year for the green light to move to start trade talks with Brussels.

Maintaining his tough position on a deal with London, he told the Dail if it wasn't possible to move onto phase two of the Brexit negotiations next week, "then we can pick it up in the new year". Mr Varadkar acknowledged it was in the Republic's interest for trade talks to begin as soon as possible, but took a side-swipe at the DUP.

"I think we should listen to all parties in Northern Ireland and not accept this idea that seems to be gaining prevalence in some parts of London, and maybe other places as well, that there is only one party in Northern Ireland and that that party speaks for everyone," he said.

"I don't accept that premise, which seems to be accepted by too many people at the moment." But Mr Dodds hit back, saying: "Mr Varadkar may try to appear calm on the surface but he is playing a dangerous game - not with us but with his own economy. His statement about Brexit talks continuing into the new year will send more worries through the business and commercial sectors of the Irish Republic than it will in Northern Ireland or the rest of the UK."

Mr Dodds said the longer the delay in moving onto the second phase of the talks, the greater the chances of a 'no deal' scenario.

"The Irish Republic would suffer far worse economically from no trade deal than the UK," he said.

"The Republic of Ireland has £13.4bn worth of sales to the UK. It is estimated that tens of thousands of jobs are at stake."

Meanwhile, Mrs May came under intense fire at Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons over her failure so far to seal a deal.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn labelled the Government's Brexit approach a "shambles", with the DUP "ruling the roost".

Belfast Telegraph

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