Belfast Telegraph

Irish government rules out bilateral talks with DUP

By Cate McCurry

The Irish government has rejected the prospect of bilateral discussions on Brexit with the DUP.

It comes after DUP leader Arlene Foster said she hopes to speak to Irish premier Leo Varadkar later this week.

Mrs Foster said her party is in the process of setting up talks with the Irish government.

But in a statement, a spokesman for the government said: "The Irish government is always willing to discuss the Good Friday Agreement and peace process with the DUP.

"However, negotiations on Brexit take place through the European Commission."

Mr Varadkar said he will travel to Northern Ireland on Friday, where he will meet with political parties, but added he will not be holding any Brexit negotiations.

Speaking in the Dail, he said: "As should always be the case when you travel to Northern Ireland, we should listen to all of the parties and not just any one party.

"(I will) also speak to businesses and civil society in relation to Brexit, however I won't be carrying out negotiations with any political party because the negotiations are between the EU and the UK.

"While we can certainly have discussions with the UK and discussions with political parties or individuals politicians, the negotiations can only happen with Ireland and the EU on one side of the table and the UK on the other, and we are in a much stronger position in that regard and we will not be departing from that."

On Monday, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said his party wants to have face-to-face discussions with the Irish government.

He told RTE: "I want to respect the integrity of the Irish government position, I want to sit down with them and see if we can move this forward. I believe there will be meaningful engagement and we have asked them."

Mr Varadkar will travel to Brussels today to meet with EU leaders to intensify plans for a no-deal Brexit.

The Taoiseach will meet with senior EU representatives, including President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, and President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.

The leaders will discuss the detailed contingency planning under way for a no-deal Brexit.

Speaking before he left Ireland, the Taoiseach said: "The Withdrawal Agreement is the best way to ensure an orderly withdrawal by the UK. We want the future relationship between the EU and the UK to be as close, comprehensive and ambitious as possible, so that the backstop will never be needed.

"However, given the ongoing uncertainty in London, we are intensifying our planning for all scenarios, including a no-deal exit."

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