Belfast Telegraph

Varadkar: Ireland's free-flowing border with UK is rock solid

By David Young, PA

A joint commitment to the retention of a free-flowing Irish border post-Brexit by the UK and the EU is "rock solid and cast iron", the Taoiseach has said.

Leo Varadkar described assurances outlined in the agreed text as "politically bulletproof".

"We have protected what we sought to protect and we achieved what we sought to achieve," he said.

Reacting to the breakthrough at Government Buildings in Dublin, the Fine Gael leader downplayed changes in the wording of the text from Monday's ill-fated draft, which was scuppered by the DUP.

He said the amendments were "stylistic changes in language" or "just statements of fact" that his government had "no difficulty with".

The Taoiseach acknowledged relations between the UK and Ireland had become strained during the phase one negotiations but he predicted that now his government has achieved the desired guarantees on the border it would become one of London's "closest friends" in the next stage of the Brexit talks.

In regard to the ratification of a potential final Brexit deal, Mr Varadkar said he did not think it would require a referendum in Ireland.

The Taoiseach said yesterday's phase one agreement marked a "very significant day" for Ireland.

"This is not the end, but it is the end of the beginning," he added.

"And we will remain fully engaged and vigilant throughout phase two, the drafting and ratification of the new treaties that will be required between the EU and UK and their implementation."

The Taoiseach added that the deal was good news for all the people of Northern Ireland, and tried to assure unionists that he and his government did not have a "hidden agenda".

"There is no question of us exploiting Brexit as a means of moving to a united Ireland without consent," he said.

"We do not want to see a border in the Irish Sea, any more than we want to see a border between Newry and Dundalk or between Letterkenny and Derry.

"We want to build bridges, not borders.

"We want free travel and free trade to continue as it does now. We want reconciliation and respect to grow.

"Our guiding light has been to ensure that the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement continue to operate in full after Brexit."

He told nationalists in Northern Ireland that the Irish government had ensured their rights had been protected.

"There will be no hard border on our island," he told them. "You will never again be left behind by an Irish government."

Belfast Telegraph

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