Varadkar says Brexit deal possible but not guaranteed in next few weeks
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said a successful outcome to Brexit negotiations by Christmas is “more likely than not”.
In one of his most confident assessments of the process to date, the Taoiseach spoke of a deal being possible, but not guaranteed, in the next few weeks.
Speaking at the British-Irish Council meeting in the Isle of Man yesterday, Mr Varadkar also said that the views of all parties and interested organisations in the North should be considered, not just those of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
However, in a press conference following the summit, Mr Varadkar did add a few caveats to his assessment. “I think it’s more likely than not that we will be able to agree an agreement in the next few weeks, before the end of the year. But lots of things can go wrong and even if we can agree before the end of year, bear in mind what’s agreed will have to be ratified [by] Westminster and also by the European Parliament,” he said.
“And even when all that is done, then we begin talks on the future relationship. There’s no clean break here, this could go on for a very long time.”
Speaking on the backstop – a mechanism to maintain a free-flowing border even if a wider trade deal fails to materialise – he said the most important objective was to give everyone in Northern Ireland and Ireland the assurance that a hard border will not develop.
Referring to the DUP, he said it was important to listen to its point of view but added: “The only thing I would say is it is very important we listen to the voice of Northern Ireland, we listen to all political parties, we should listen to farmers, fishermen, the business community, trade unions and civil society.
“If we do that and listen to the voice of Northern Ireland as a whole that will help us to come to an agreement.”
Others present at the meeting were senior British cabinet member David Lidington; Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon; Carwyn Jones of the Welsh government, Guernsey deputy Gavin St Pier and senator John Le Fondré of Jersey.
The summit came as British prime minister Theresa May faced a potential rift with the DUP over the contents of a leaked letter that appears to suggest she would sign up to a “backstop to the backstop” that would mean a border down the Irish Sea with Northern Ireland in the EU single market regulatory regime.
Asked whether the Northern Ireland backstop would or would not feature in any withdrawal agreement, Mr Lidington said: “We don’t comment on alleged leaked documents but the position remains as it has always been. We are working with the commission to deliver on the commitments made in the joint report on December 2017. That means all the various commitments made in that report.
“And the prime minister has always been very clear that we won’t accept something that involves carving out Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.”
British prime minister Theresa May faces a potential rift with the DUP