Belfast Telegraph

Ireland 'no need to use veto' to block Brexit progress and Northern Ireland 'different' to rest of UK: Varadkar

  • EU president's stance 'positive'
  • Brexit has driven wedge between Britain and Ireland
  • Special arrangements already in place for NI
  • Dublin not using Brexit to bring about united Ireland
  • Potential exit could undermine NI's place in UK

By Jonathan Bell

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he has no intention of exercising Ireland's veto to halt Brexit negotiations moving on to the next stage.

The Fine Gael leader was speaking to RTE after EU president Donald Tusk said Ireland would have the ultimate veto in deciding if the phase two of the Brexit talks on trade could begin.

He described Friday as a "very positive day" after EU President Donald Tusk said the ultimate veto in deciding if the Brexit talks could progress to trade talks lay with Ireland.

Mr Varadkar said a veto was not something he had sought from the EU.

"A veto is something you use when you are isolated and there is 26 countries against you," he said.

"It is the politics Margaret Thatcher would have pursued and we can see where all that ended up and bizarrely a policy Sinn Fein in their conference were calling on me to use.

"We don't need to use veto, we have 26 countries behind us."

Irish foreign Minister Simon Coveney reiterated the stance on Sunday, denying claims from Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg Dublin was motivated by the recent resignation of the Tanaiste an impending election and the rise of Sinn Fein.

He said: "There is no desire in Ireland to delay this process... but at the same time we have a responsibility to represent the interests of the island of Ireland, north and south."

He also said recent opinion polls had suggested Sinn Fein's support in the Republic had "weakened".

In a wide-ranging interview the Taoiseach give an upbeat assessment of the state of play in the negotiations between the EU27 and the UK saying they were on course to meet their stated aims. He however, said Brexit had soured relations between Britain and Ireland.

Irish-British relations were at their closest ever, and then came Brexit... it is a disruption

And, given the UK was Ireland's biggest trading partner, it was very important good relations were maintained with London. 

"The [UK] is a very important market," he continued, "but the Euro zone is equally important if not more so at this time."

He continued: "Irish-British relations were at their closest ever, and then came Brexit.

"Brexit is not our policy, this is their policy. It's a disruption and it is causing problems for us".

Mr Varadkar said that after the referendum result last year in terms of what the Irish government had set out to achieve they "were well on the way to achieving what we wanted to achieve".

He said protecting the common travel area and all the rights associated with it was not "done and dusted yet, but we are there or thereabouts".

"That's about much more than travelling between Britain and Ireland. It's about the rights to live, work, study, access pensions and healthcare as if we were citizens of both countries," he said.

"It's a really big deal and that's looking good too."

Ireland, the Taoiseach said, was keen to move onto phase two of the Brexit talks because for business "that was the most important element".

"But we wanted to have a written assurance there will be an avoidance of a hard border," he added.

Asked how there could be an avoidance of the border, the Taoisearch, said he was committed to the Good Friday Agreement.

"The Good Friday Agreement says that Northern Ireland is different from the rest of the United Kingdom.

"It has a devolved government, a very unusual form of devolved government... and we'll get it back up and running in time.

The Good Friday Agreement says Northern Ireland is different from the rest of the United Kingdom.

"There already are special arrangements for Northern Ireland in the fact people born there can be British, Irish or both. Even after Brexit people will still be able to be Irish citizens and EU citizens.

"So at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement is an acceptance for special arrangements and there could be further special arrangements in the future.

"What we want is to avoid a hard border."

Mr Varadkar accused the British Government of going further in the Brexit talks than the referendum result indicated.

"They have tried to narrow the parameters of the future relationship by saying we are also going to leave the customs union and the single market.

"What we have said is we can't change your mind on that but we want to narrow parameters as well and part of whatever deal is made will mean a hard border will be avoided.

"Or in the event of us being unable to get agreement the rules of the single market and customs union will continue to apply."

He added: "If we are going to move to phase two, they are going to have to say yes to something. Not so long ago they said they wouldn't pay any money and now they will pay 60billion."

They are going to have to say yes to something.

Asked about David Trimble's comments that the Irish government was using Brexit to bring about a united Ireland he said he understood unionist sympathies, but Brexit could undermine the relationship between NI and the UK.

"But we are not about that," he continued.

"We are not looking to change the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. We want the Good Friday Agreement to work.

"We're totally committed to that as a government. We're not looking to replace it with something new.

"What we want is just practical common sense. We want people to be able to cross the border, just like they do now.

"We are actually defending the status quo."

Mr Varadkar also rejected a notion raised by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern that a blind eye could be turned to some border crossings after Brexit.

"We will conform with the laws of the EU," he added.

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