Belfast Telegraph

Unionism 'more than red post boxes,' blasts DUP's Nigel Dodds over Varadkar Brexit reassurance bid

Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's attempts to reassure unionists Boris Johnson's Brexit deal was not threat to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland have fallen flat with the DUP blasting them as "offensive".

Mr Varadkar said if the deal was passed, the Queen would still be the Queen, the pound will still be the pound and "people will still post letters in Royal Mail red letterboxes" in Northern Ireland.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds accused the Taoiseach of being "very ill informed".

The unionist party has said it cannot support the Prime Minister's Brexit deal due to issues over customs, VAT and consent on Northern Ireland's future relationship with Europe.

Mr Dodds said that the deal was a "major rewriting" of the Good Friday Agreement, while DUP leader Arlene Foster said it separated Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

However, architect of the Good Friday Agreement, David Trimble said the deal was within the spirit of the deal and "a great step forward".

Speaking from an EU summit in Brussels Mr Varadkar said that his message to unionists was that the Good Friday Agreement "assures the constitutional position of Northern Ireland".

"The fact that there may be differences between Great Britain and Northern Ireland doesn't undermine the constitutional position of Northern Ireland in my view," the Taoiseach said.

"It's been the case for 100 years now that Northern Ireland has its own legal system, has a different education system, has lots of different laws, lots of different rules form the rest of the UK, and that's a reflection of devolution and autonomy, and doesn't change the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.

"So if this agreement is ratified, and if it is fully implemented, the Queen will still be the Queen, the pound will still be the pound, people will still post letters in Royal Mail red letterboxes."

There are thousands of red Royal Mail postboxes across Northern Ireland.
There are thousands of red Royal Mail postboxes across Northern Ireland.

Mr Dodds hit back at Mr Varadkar's comments, saying symbolism was not the issue.

“If Leo Varadkar thinks unionism is just about red post boxes then he is either very ill informed or else just wishes to be offensive," the North Belfast MP said.

"Of course we will still use sterling and Her Majesty The Queen will be our head of state, but a new trade barrier will have been erected between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom without the consent of anyone who lives here."

The DUP deputy leader said that the current deal would impact negatively on people in Northern Ireland.

"Trade borders have always run to the core of any nation. Customs duties are collected at the border. Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom therefore there should be unfettered trade within the boundaries of the United Kingdom," Mr Dodds said.

"More bureaucracy for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland will potentially increase costs for consumers and ultimately reduce choice for consumers also.”

Mr Varadkar said that while he had hoped the DUP might agree to support the PM's deal he noted that they do not speak for everyone in Northern Ireland.

"At various points, you know, I hoped it would be possible for them to come on board, but ultimately they made the decision that they did, I have to respect that," he said.

"They're a political party and they have a right to make their own decisions and decide what they think is best, but I'm also conscious that there are other parties in Northern Ireland too, and we should never lose sight of that.

"There's more than one political party in Northern Ireland, and even beyond parties it's been important to us that we listen to the voice of business, of civil society, of farmers, and I think if we listen to all those voices, both this deal and the previous were met with majority support in Northern Ireland, and that's always been crucial for us."

The Taoiseach said that while Ireland would be open to a Brexit extension, he could not see the EU returning to the negotiating table.

"Plan B is no-deal, and we're all preparing for that, and we've all been preparing for that since the referendum, but let's hope that doesn't happen," Mr Varadkar said.

"I cannot see the European Union coming back again for another set of negotiations, I really can't.

"It's really in the hands now of MPs and I just hope they'll consider the matter and decide what they believe is best for their country."

Additional reporting by PA.

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