Irish deputy leader plays down Varadkar’s border soldiers warning

Ireland’s deputy premier has played down comments made by Leo Varadkar who said soldiers could return to the border if Brexit goes “very wrong”.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said Mr Varadkar made the claims to remind the public what the border looked like 20 years ago.

In an interview on Friday, the Taoiseach said that in a worst-case scenario there could be a return of armed customs posts after the UK leaves the EU.

Mr Varadkar told Bloomberg TV the border at present was “totally open” but if things went “very wrong” it would “look like 20 years ago”.

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Coveney was asked what uniform the troops would be wearing.

He said: “Look, what my Taoiseach and prime minister, as people in Britain will understand it, said was he was asked to describe what a hard border looks like.

“He described it to remind people what things were like 20 years ago. We cannot and should not be proposing going back there again.

“So what I would ask people to think about is how far we’ve come in the last 20 years, what a peace agreement called the Good Friday Agreement and Belfast Agreement and the 1988 Agreement – whatever perspective you come from – what that has done for relationships between our two islands.

“Let’s not go backwards now and cause tension, and let’s listen – now, this is really important, this doesn’t happen enough, in my view, on the British media – let’s not listen just to one political party’s voice from Northern Ireland because they happen to sit in Westminster.

“Let’s listen to what everybody in Northern Ireland is saying, what business people are saying, what farmers are saying, whether they’re unionist or nationalist.

“There is a strong view coming from Northern Ireland which says look, we have a withdrawal agreement here that protects the peace process and good relations on the island of Ireland.

“Let’s take that rather than risk a no-deal Brexit.”

An Irish Government spokesman issued a statement after the interview to clarify Mr Varadkar was not referring to the Irish Army.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the Taoiseach should take steps to quell border fears.

By talking about troops on the border, Leo Varadkar is being as irresponsible as those building wooden customs huts, dressing actors in trench coats and smashing concrete brick walls on the border.

It's time for cool heads & responsible language.

— Nigel Dodds (@NigelDoddsDUP) January 27, 2019

“Whether it is threats of the Belfast Agreement being undermined or the future need for troops on the border, a lot of hot air has been produced by Dublin,” he said.

“With weeks to go until the UK leaves the EU, it’s time for Dublin to ease back on rhetoric and engage constructively with their counterparts.

“Rather than protect the Belfast Agreement, the backstop drives a coach and horses through it.

“It is incredibly disappointing, at this critical time, that the Irish foreign minister and the Irish prime minister use incendiary language.

“Leo Varadkar knows fine well that talk of troops being back on the border is provocative.”

He accused Mr Varadkar of being “irresponsible” and called for the Fine Gael leader to clarify his comments.

“Such amateur dramatics do nothing to make progress and only play on people’s fears. It’s complete and utter nonsense,” Mr Dodds added.