Belfast Telegraph

Not enough progress in Brexit divorce talks, says Leo Varadkar

Brexit divorce talks have so far made insufficient progress to allow starting negotiations on a post-withdrawal trade deal, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said after meeting Theresa May in Downing Street.

But Mr Varadkar stressed that there was still time for the situation to be resolved before the 27 remaining EU members make a decision on the matter in October.

He said: "I don't think, at this stage, it would be possible to say that sufficient progress has yet been made, but it may well be possible by the end of October when we meet in Brussels."

Mr Varadkar said that the decision would be shaped by the views of chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier.

"Certainly, we will be very much guided by the report that Michel Barnier will make to the prime ministers and also the report that the European Parliament will make."

Mr Varadkar also urged the Government to be "more specific" about the future relationship between the UK and Ireland after Brexit.

Following a working lunch in No 10, Mr Varadkar said the Prime Minister's decision to rule out a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland was "very important".

Mr Varadkar, who is the first EU leader to visit the PM since her keynote address in Florence last week in which she set out her hopes for a post-Brexit relationship with Brussels, also urged the DUP and Sinn Fein to find a solution to the deadlock over powersharing.

"I have always encouraged the British Government to be more specific about how they see the future relationship between Britain and Ireland and between the United Kingdom and the European Union," he said.

Downing Street said the Government is working on a "practical solution" to deal with the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

A No 10 spokesman said: "The Prime Minister made clear how the UK will be the strongest friend and partner to the EU after we leave the EU and how maintaining the reciprocal arrangements for the Common Travel Area and the citizenship rights guaranteed by the Belfast Agreement were at the heart of our approach.

"On the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, the Prime Minister reaffirmed how we will not accept any physical infrastructure at the border and how we are working on delivering a practical solution that allows for the most seamless possible movement of goods between the UK and EU.

"The Prime Minister thanked the Taoiseach for his welcome of her Florence speech and they discussed the period of implementation which would enable people and businesses, both in the UK and in the EU, to adjust to the new arrangements in a smooth and orderly way."

Labour's former Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Hain, a supporter of the Open Britain campaign for a soft Brexit, said: "Months on from the triggering of Article 50, it is obvious that the Government has achieved nothing whatsoever in solving the problems Brexit poses for the island of Ireland.

"It is an indictment of the Government's Brexit strategy that with the clock ticking and just a year to go until the negotiations are supposed to be completed, the Taoiseach is clear that not enough progress has been made.

"Theresa May's hard Brexit policies will create serious difficulties for Northern Ireland, sabotaging the Good Friday Agreement, putting jobs at risk by restricting cross-border trade and complicating the rights of Northern Irish citizens who travel to the Republic for work and to visit relatives."

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