Belfast Telegraph

Varadkar defends Irish border backstop amid Johnson criticism

The Taoiseach said a ‘clear majority’ of people in Northern Ireland did not want to leave the EU.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar pointed out a clear majority in Northern Ireland did not want to leave the EU (Michael McHugh/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar pointed out a clear majority in Northern Ireland did not want to leave the EU (Michael McHugh/PA)

Ireland’s Taoiseach has challenged Boris Johnson’s assertion that the border backstop was anti-democratic.

The new Conservative leader made the claim during his first speech as Prime Minister.

His Irish counterpart said a clear majority in Northern Ireland did not want to leave the EU and did want the backstop guarantee, which is designed to prevent a hard border on the island if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Varadkar said: “We must always remember that in Northern Ireland there are 1.8 million people, they vote for lots of different parties and they come from different communities and the vast majority of people or at least the clear majority of people in Northern Ireland don’t want to leave the EU and they do want the backstop.”

The backstop is an insurance policy contained within the draft EU withdrawal treaty which was scuppered by Parliament and spelled the end of Theresa May’s premiership.

It would have kept Northern Ireland in line with EU regulations to avoid extra checks at the Irish border but has been castigated by unionists as threatening the integrity of the UK.

Mr Varadkar said: “This is something that the majority of people in Northern Ireland want, the majority of members of the Assembly want, two out of three MEPs want, the majority of political parties support.

“Bear in mind the majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to Remain in the EU and as one of the co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement I have to respect that and I have a solemn duty in that regard.”

He said a no-deal exit from the EU will be Britain’s choice alone and nobody can blame Ireland or the EU if the UK crashed out.

The Irish premier warned Britain it would not secure a free trade deal without the backstop, which has been strongly criticised by many unionists and Brexiteers.

Mr Varadkar said: “No deal can only ever be a British decision because there are many ways by which no deal can be avoided, either by revoking Article 50, by seeking a further extension, or by ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement.”

He said he hoped the new Prime Minister proved as true to his word as his predecessor.

The Irish Government came to office in 2016 and is on its third UK Government and Prime Minister.

The Taoiseach said he hoped to meet his new British counterpart sooner rather than later, his only previous encounter being a brief one during a St Patrick’s Day event in London.

Conservative MP Priti Patel, the former British international development minister who has been appointed Home Secretary, was previously condemned on both sides of the Irish Sea for remarks in the Times newspaper that Britain could prevent its use as a landbridge between Ireland and the continent.

She responded to a British Government report stating that a no-deal Brexit might mean food shortages in Ireland.

On Thursday the Taoiseach recalled the Irish Famine in the mid 1800s which devastated the population of Co Donegal, where he stood following a meeting of the Irish Cabinet.

Mr Varadkar said: “I would hope that with the passage of time she has thought better about those remarks and did not mean them to be said in that way.”

PA

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