My focus is on Brexit, not an election, Leo Varadkar says

Irish premier Leo Varadkar has insisted his focus is on Brexit, not a potential election.

He was speaking just hours after deputy premier Simon Coveney described Fine Gael as “election ready” as uncertainty continues over whether the party’s confidence-and-supply deal with Fianna Fail will continue.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has insisted a comprehensive review of the pact must be undertaken before he will consider signing up to an extension.

He has cited concerns over how the Government has handled issues such as health and housing since the confidence-and-supply accord was signed in 2016.

The Taoiseach wants Fianna Fail to agree to support his minority for a further two years – until the summer of 2020 – insisting political stability is vital as the country deals with the consequences of Brexit.

If an agreement fails to materialise after the deal expired following this month’s budget, Ireland will face a winter general election only months away from the UK’s departure from the EU.

Fine Gael’s annual conference, Ard Fheis, is taking place in Dublin this weekend.

Speaking on Saturday morning, Mr Coveney said the party is not taking the outcome to the current negotiations with Fianna Fail for granted.

“We would like a situation where it can provide certainty for the next 18 months or so. The Taoiseach has said over the summer that he would like to agree a date for the next election,” Mr Coveney said.

“We would like to set a date in June 2020 if we can do that. But, of course, that is something that has to happen between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. We don’t take the confidence and supply for granted.

“We also will not stay in Government without clarity in terms of the confidence-and-supply agreement.

“You cannot run a Government working week to week and month to month not knowing whether you have stability in the context of crucial votes in the Dail. That’s why these negotiations are serious in terms of trying to provide stability for another relatively short period of time.”

However, hours later Mr Varadkar played down speculation of an early Irish election.

He said his focus is on Brexit.

“My finer interest is not going to be electoral advantage at the moment, it’s looking after the interests of the country that we are charged to lead,” he said.

“And with the uncertainty that exists at the moment, particularly around Brexit, the focus of the government has to be on that rather than on elections.”