Ire­land ‘will block next phase of Brexit talks’ over bor­der

■ Gov­ern­ment has power to stop EU-UK dis­cus­sions pro­gress­ing

Irish Examiner - - Front Page - Juno McEn­roe and Fi­achra Ó Cion­naith

The Gov­ern­ment is set to block Bri­tain’s at­tempts to progress Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions be­cause of its fail­ure to ad­dress con­cerns about the bor­der with the North.

The Taoiseach and the For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter have warned Bri­tain that ne­go­ti­a­tions on Brexit, in­clud­ing around a new bor­der with the north, are “not close” to where they need to be to meet the Oc­to­ber dead­line to progress to the next phase of ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Speak­ing at the Fine Gael pre-Dáil meet­ing in Tip­per­ary, Leo Varad­kar sent out a strong mes­sage to Lon­don that Ire­land will block its pro­gres­sion to the next phase of Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions.

EU lead­ers agree “suf­fi­cient progress” must be made on three is­sues, in­clud­ing the new Ir­ish bor­der, be­fore talks move to phase two.

“The guide­lines that we set out as Euro­pean heads of gov­ern­ment was that we want to see spe­cial progress, not just on is­sues re­lat­ing to Ire­land where there has been quite a lot of progress, but also on the fi­nan­cial set­tle­ment and cit­i­zens rights and as of now enough progress hasn’t been made for us to go onto the next phase of talks.”

Else­where, the Taoiseach crit­i­cised the Garda Rep­re­sen­ta­tives As­so­ci­a­tion for re­ject­ing “spe­cific find­ings” of the false al­co­hol breath tests in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The as­so­ci­a­tion has de­nied front­line gar­daí were re­spon­si­ble for the fake tests. Mr Varad­kar said he was “dis­ap­pointed” with their re­sponse.

“There is ev­i­dence in the O’Sul­li­van re­port to back up the view that gar­daí did fal­sify the num­ber of tests.”

Asked if he is in favour of dis­ci­plin­ing in­di­vid­ual gar­daí who filed false breath tests, Mr Varad­kar added: “I do be­lieve there should be in­di­vid­ual ac­count­abil­ity for any­one who was in­volved in fal­si­fy­ing breath tests, and not just at the level of in­di­vid­ual rank and file gar­daí.”

The Taoiseach has said he is not op­ti­mistic that the UK will be able to do enough by next month to move onto the next phase of ne­go­ti­a­tions on Brexit.

The Gov­ern­ment, which has the power to pre­vent the talks pro­gress­ing, is adamant that talks to date have left the sides not even close to where they need to be in or­der to en­ter phase two.

The re­fusal by Mr Varad­kar to al­low Lon­don to move onto the next phase will likely frus­trate UK prime min­is­ter Theresa May who wants to ham­mer out a fresh deal on fu­ture re­la­tions with the EU.

At a Fine Gael pre-Dáil con­fer­ence in Co Tip­per­ary, the Taoiseach sent out a stark mes­sage to our strong­est trad­ing part­ner, the UK, say­ing Ire­land would not al­low Lon­don to be­gin ne­go­ti­at­ing its fu­ture with the EU.

EU lead­ers have agreed that suf­fi­cient progress must be made on three is­sues — the Ir­ish ques­tion, cit­i­zens’ rights and the UK’s exit bill — be­fore Brexit talks be­tween the Union and the UK move to phase two.

How­ever, any re­luc­tance by Ire­land or other states to ap­prove this will re­sult in lead­ers at a spe­cial sum­mit next month in Brus­sels fail­ing to agree to the next phase of talks, a move which could threaten the sta­bil­ity of the ne­go­ti­a­tions with the UK.

“At the mo­ment, I’m not op­ti­mistic that it will be pos­si­ble to come to the view in Oc­to­ber that we are able to move onto the next phase in talks,” Mr Varad­kar said.

“The guide­lines that we set out as Euro­pean heads of gov­ern­ment was that we want to see spe­cial progress, not just on is­sues re­lat­ing to Ire­land where there has been quite a lot of progress ac­tu­ally, but also on the fi­nan­cial set­tle­ment and cit­i­zens rights. As of now, enough progress hasn’t been made for us to go onto the next phase of talks.

“But that can change, there are a num­ber of weeks to go yet,” he said.

For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Si­mon Coveney, who is co-or­di­nat­ing Ire­land’s Brexit talks, also agreed that it was un­likely that phase two would now go ahead.

“I don’t think we are close to be­ing where we need to be in or­der to move from phase one to phase two,” he said. “That will be a de­ci­sion be­tween lead­ers. But un­less there is a sig­nif­i­cant fur­ther move from the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment be­tween now and the mid­dle of Oc­to­ber, that is un­likely to hap­pen in Oc­to­ber,” he said.

Mean­while, with just weeks to go, Mr Varad­kar has given his strong­est sig­nal yet that cash for next month’s bud­get is likely to be in­creased through rev­enuerais­ing mea­sures.

There is an es­ti­mated €320m avail­able to the Gov­ern­ment for spend­ing on ser­vices and tax cuts. But the small pot can be bol­stered.

Mr Varad­kar sig­nalled yes­ter­day that his min­is­ters would likely now have even more to spend.

“There’ll be no cuts in any de­part­ment spend­ing this year, every de­part­ment will have an in­crease in spend­ing, it’s just a case of how much we can ac­com­mo­date in the pa­ram­e­ters avail­able to us,” he said.

“It would be typ­i­cal enough for there to be an in­crease in [the price of] cig­a­rettes, that’s one of the things un­der con­sid­er­a­tion. Also, I’m a long-time sup­porter of the sugar tax and I want to see that in­tro­duced next year, but I’m not in a po­si­tion to get into de­tails,” he said.

The Gov­ern­ment last year an­nounced a tax on sug­ar­sweet­ened drinks would be in­tro­duced in 2018. It said the tax would be in­tro­duced in line with sim­i­lar plans in the UK for April 2018.

Leo Varad­kar: Ne­go­ti­a­tions ‘not close’ to where they need to be.

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