Leo Varadkar warns of ‘great difficulty’ on reaching Brexit deal

The British Government’s position on Brexit and Northern Ireland is causing “great difficulty” in reaching a deal, Irish premier Leo Varadkar has said.

He also said any solution on the border issue must have the backing of the people in Northern Ireland.

The Taoiseach, addressing questions about a series of anonymous briefings from within Downing Street, said there has not been any changes to the EU’s negotiating position.

It emerged earlier this week that in an anonymous briefing sent to The Spectator, a Downing Street official revealed how the British Government plans to avoid the Benn Act and how talks with the EU will break down leading to a no-deal exit.

Speaking in the Irish parliament, Mr Varadkar said: “I don’t think much of an anonymous briefing whether they come from Downing Street or if they come from my own ranks, quite frankly.

“There hasn’t been any change to the EU negotiating position, we signed our guidelines to the Council meetings, and they haven’t changed and they certainly cannot change until the summit next week.

“As far as the Irish Government is concerned, we do want to deal, we’re willing to work hard to get a deal, to work until the last moment to get a deal, but certainly not at any cost.

“We are absolutely open to proposals that will take into account the democratic wishes and the views of the people of Northern Ireland in relation to consent and relation to democracy.

“But we need to make sure that any such arrangements are workable. It is a sad fact that the Northern Ireland Assembly hasn’t met for three years, and has only met for about half the time that’s been in existence.

“We also need to bear in mind that the people of Northern Ireland voted by a clear majority to remain in the European Union, that the people of Northern Ireland, when asked, said they were in favour of the backstop that was negotiated with Prime Minister (Theresa) May’s government.

Irish border
The Irish border has been one of the most contentious issues of the Brexit process (PA)

“Any solution that we come to, and any solution that I can recommend to this House, has to have support from the people of Northern Ireland, and the people of Northern Ireland have given their views on this, that they don’t want to leave the European Union, that they would accept the backstop, that they don’t support proposals currently on the table from the British Government.”

Mr Varadkar said part of the difficulty is the UK’s position that Northern Ireland must leave the EU customs union.

He claimed it has adopted this position whether the people of Northern Ireland “like it or not”.

He added: “That creates huge difficulties for us because we want there to be a deal that respects the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland, and indeed the people in this Republic too.”

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