Belfast Telegraph

Taoiseach: border issue has strained relations with UK

By David Young, PA

The Ango-Irish relationship has been affected by the Brexit negotiations, the Taoiseach has admitted.

But the Republic and the UK's objectives are not mutually exclusive, Leo Varadkar insisted.

Mr Varadkar acknowledged relations with London had become "strained" amid the wrangle over how to manage the Irish border, but said it was time for "grown up" politics as both governments seek to achieve what is best for their citizens as the EU/UK talks move on to the next phase.

The Taoiseach said he was determined to get the best outcome for the Irish people from Brexit negotiations, which he said had so far "challenged" his country's relationship with Prime Minister Theresa May's government.

"Relations obviously are a little bit strained, and they've been challenged by the events of recent months," he said.

"The reason that relations have become strained is because of Brexit. It was not our policy. Brexit was a decision of the UK people, which we respect, and is being pursued by the government in the UK.

"What has strained relations is that decision.

"But we need to be grown up about it. We need to get on with it and try to get the best outcome for the Irish people."

Although strained, the Taoiseach said his relationship with Mrs May's administration was "not bad".

He said he would speak with the Prime Minister every two weeks.

Mr Varadkar said he believed that he and Mrs May have a "shared and common objective", which is "to get the best outcome for our people - for her the best outcome for the United Kingdom, for me the best outcome for Irish people, both here in this state and in Northern Ireland.

"I don't think things are mutually exclusive. In a lot of areas we'd be very similar.

"For example on free trade - both of us will want to have as close as possible a relationship when it comes to trade for example, so I think there's a lot of work we could do together there."

The Taoiseach and Prime Minister are due to meet next month to discuss the ongoing political crisis in Northern Ireland, which has been left without a functioning administration for almost a year following the collapse of the power-sharing Executive.

"We're going to have another push in the new year to get the Executive up and running," Mr Varadkar added.

"I'm very conscious that there are a number of parties in Northern Ireland, all of which represent people there.

"I'm certain the Tanaiste (Simon Coveney) and I will be meeting them over the course of January and doing anything we can do to get those institutions up and running again."

Mr Varadkar also highlighted the achievement of his predecessor as Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, in attaining agreement among European leaders that Northern Ireland would automatically rejoin the EU in the event of Irish reunification.

He said: "The Kenny text, which I think people may have forgotten about, but it was there during the early part of the negotiations.

"It was an assurance from our European partners that in the event that a united Ireland was ever to happen, the six counties of Northern Ireland could join the European Union in the way that East Germany did."

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