Belfast Telegraph

Varadkar tells Johnson protecting peace process is top priority

The Taoiseach told the British Prime Minister that a no-deal Brexit would cause severe disruption in the UK and Ireland.

By Aoife Moore, PA

The Irish premier has told the UK Prime Minister that protecting peace on the island of Ireland is one of his top priorities.

Speaking before his meeting with Boris Johnson in Dublin on Monday, the Taoiseach said he believed a no-deal Brexit is possible, and would cause severe disruption for British and Irish people alike.

“The people of this island, North and South, need to know that their livelihoods, their security and their sense of identity will not be put at risk as a consequence of a hard Brexit,” he told Mr Johnson during the press conference.

“The stakes are high.

“Avoiding the return of a hard border on this island and protecting our place in the single market are the Irish Government’s priorities in all circumstances.

“We must protect peace on the island and the burgeoning success of the all-island economy.  

“This is why the backstop continues to be a critical component of the Withdrawal Agreement, unless and until an alternative is found.”

Mr Varadkar added that both leaders have a shared desire to see the restoration of the devolved administration at Stormont, which has been deadlocked between the two main parties over equality issues.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson signing the visitors’ book as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar welcomes him to the Government Buildings in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

“The Tanaiste (Simon Coveney) and Secretary of State (Julian Smith) are already working closely together on that,” Mr Varadkar said.

“The Good Friday Agreement is proof that old foes can come together to deal with the most intractable of problems. As co-guarantors of the Agreement, I look forward to exploring with you, how working with the Northern Ireland parties, we can restore powersharing and devolution.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meeting Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Niall Carson/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meeting Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Niall Carson/PA)

The Taoiseach, who has said he would be open to an extension to Brexit if there is good reason, added that more talks will be needed in any circumstance which the UK leaves the EU.

Mr Varadkar said: “The story of Brexit will not end if the United Kingdom leaves on October 31 or even January 31 – there is no such thing as a clean break. No such thing as just getting it done. Rather, we just enter a new phase.

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Both leaders said the restoration of the devolved administration at Stormont was a priority (Niall Carson/PA)

“We will have to get back to the negotiating table. When we do, the first and only items on the agenda will be citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the Irish border.”

He went on to tell Mr Johnson that negotiating trade agreements with the EU and US and securing their ratification in less than three years is going to be a “Herculean” task.

“We want to be your friend and ally, your Athena, in doing so,” he said.

“The manner in which you leave the EU will determine if that’s possible.

“But what we cannot do, and will not do, is replace a legal guarantee with a promise.”

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Mr Varadkar warned the UK Prime Minister about the consequences of replacing a legal guarantee with a promise (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Johnson promised that the UK would not impose border checks, but refused to be drawn on the particulars of any plan to avoid this scenario.

He said: “As someone who went to the border several times before the Good Friday Agreement and shuddered to see watch towers on UK soil, I can say now, as I’ve said many times before, the UK will never, ever institute checks at the border, and I hope our friends in the EU would say the same.

“Can we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement in all its particulars?

“Again, I say the answer is yes, and our commitment in the UK to the peace process is unshakeable.”

Both men agreed towards the end of the press conference that they were not expecting “any big breakthroughs” at their meeting.

PA

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