Ireland ‘will block next phase of Brexit talks’ over border
■ Government has power to stop EU-UK discussions progressing
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.