Belfast Telegraph

No-deal Brexit not inevitable, says Leo Varadkar during Northern Ireland visit

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking to media, after touring Hillsborough Castle in Hillsborough, Northern Ireland. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking to media, after touring Hillsborough Castle in Hillsborough, Northern Ireland. Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he does not believe a no-deal Brexit is inevitable during a visit to Northern Ireland.

However, speaking at Hillsborough Castle the Taoiseach reiterated the EU position that the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for renegotiation.

But the Irish premier insisted there was scope to offer clarifications on the deal and changes could be made to the Political Declaration on the future relationship.

"I don't accept it's unavoidable," he said of the prospects of a no-deal.

"There are many ways by which a no-deal can be avoided. Either by the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, a further extension or revocation of Article 50.

"So, there are a number of ways that a no-deal can be avoided on the 31st of October. I am certainly not fatalistic about that."

Mr Varadkar said he had last week invited Boris Johnson to hold talks with him in Dublin on Brexit and other issues with "no preconditions".

"I certainly stand over that invite," he said.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking to media. Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Mr Varadkar acknowledged that relations with the UK Government had been under strain, but he said that did not mean a Brexit deal was impossible.

"As is often the case before an agreement, things can be a little bit difficult but they end with an agreement, and I think that's possible," he said.

Relations between the Irish government and the Democratic Unionist Party have also frayed during the Brexit process.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson greeted Mr Varadkar on Tuesday as he arrived at the historic royal palace in Co Down.

The Taoiseach said he was always willing to engage with the DUP.

"It's always good to have lines to communication open and while it may not always appear so, lines of communication are very much open," he said.

Mr Varadkar said the Brexit process would not end on October 31, even if there is no-deal.

He said issues contained in the current Withdrawal Agreement - such as citizens' rights, the financial settlement and the Irish border - would still need to be resolved post-Brexit before there were any negotiations on a future trading relationship.

There is one thing that I would like to say and perhaps it isn't fully appreciated - this doesn't end on October 31st Leo Varadkar

"Some people I know have become weary of Brexit and they may take the view that this should end on October 31st, either with a deal or with no-deal. This doesn't end on October 31st," he said.

"If there is a deal we are going to enter into several years of negotiations on a new free trade agreement with the UK and a new economic and security partnership.

"If there's no deal, then at a certain point we will have to begin negotiations again and the first items on the agenda will be citizens' rights, the financial settlement and the solution to the Irish border.

So, Brexit isn't a storm that we weather or a severe weather event that we prepare for, it is a permanent change in relations between the European Union, including Ireland, and the United Kingdom. I think that needs to be borne in mind. Leo Varadkar

Mr Varadkar said Ireland was still in discussions with the European Commission on what form customs and regulatory checks would take in the event of a no-deal.

"We are going to tell people - citizens and businesses - when we know," he said.

The Irish premier said the likelihood of a no deal increased as the clock ticked towards the end of October.

"As time goes on, yes a no deal becomes more likely, that's why we have been preparing for it even from before the referendum took place," he said.

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