Government confirms Ireland's position on Brexit will not be changing

The Taoiseach spoke to the British Prime Minister by phone this afternoon

Government confirms Ireland's position on Brexit will not be changing

File photo | The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Liberty Hall, Dublin, 25-11-2017. Image: Artur Widak

Updated 18:05

The Government has confirmed that Ireland’s position on Brexit will not be changing – with the Taoiseach suggesting that if no deal can be reached ahead of next week’s EU summit, talks can restart in the new year.

A last minute intervention from Northern Ireland’s DUP party on Monday scuppered an agreement between British and European negotiators that would have avoided any return to a hard border in Ireland following Brexit.

The British Prime Minster Theresa May has faced a torrid day in Westminster with opposition parties calling her approach to the negotiations a “shambles” after it emerged the DUP – her partners in government – were only sent the text of the agreement late on Monday morning.

Speaking this afternoon, she insisted her government will do what is right for the UK as a whole – and once again pledged that there will be no return to a hard border in Ireland.

Her insistence that the talks are progressing however was met with disdain by her fellow MPs:

“As President Juncker said on Monday, there are a couple of things we are still negotiating on and he is confident that we will be able to achieve sufficient progress,” she said.

The British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the DUP veto, minutes before Mrs May was due to announce an agreement, illustrated that the “tail really is wagging the dog here.”

“This Government is clearly not fit for the future,” he said. “If they can’t negotiate a good deal wouldn’t it be better if they just got out of the way.”

Leader's phone call

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke to Mrs May about the impasse over the phone this afternoon.

A government spokesman said the Taoiseach reiterated his firm view that the text agreed on Monday should remain unchanged.

Following the call, a Downing Street spokesperson said both leaders had “agreed about the paramount importance of no hard border or physical infrastructure at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

The spokesman said Mrs May told the Taoiseach that she recognised the “significance of this issue to the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland” adding that it remained a “joint priority for both Governments, and the EU, to resolve.”

“The Prime Minister said we are working hard to find a specific solution to the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland that respects the integrity of the UK, the European Union and the Belfast Agreement,” said the spokesman.

“She added that we are committed to moving together to achieve a positive result on this as well as restoring devolved Government to Northern Ireland.

“Both leaders looked forward to continuing relations as close neighbours and allies as the negotiations progress.”

Phase two

Speaking in Leinster House earlier, Mr Varadkar said it remains the Irish Government’s “desire, ambition and wish” to move on to the next stage of Brexit negotiations dealing with the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU.

“We want to move to Phase Two,” he said. “But if that is not possible next week, given the problems which have arisen, we can pick it up in the new year.”

He said he has already had confirmation from the European Commission that Ireland and Europe both stand by the text that was agreed on Monday.

Structured negotiation

He noted that Brexit negotiations are carried out between the EU task force, “into which we have a very strong input” and the UK Government - adding that there could be no “trilateral negotiation involving the Irish Government, the British Government and one of the parties in Northern Ireland.”

He said it is important to listen to all parties in Northern Ireland adding that he does not accept the idea, “which seems to be gaining prevalence in some parts of London and perhaps other places, that there is only one party in Northern Ireland which speaks for everybody there.”

He urged the DUP to get onside with the British negotiating team:

“We should remember that in Northern Ireland there are many voices,” he said.

“There are even Unionist voices who are very much behind the proposals that were taken to Brussels in the days gone by and that is something I think we need to bear in mind.

“There are a lot of different voices in Northern Ireland and we need to listen to them all.”

Difficult situation

He said he remains mindful of the fact that Mrs May is managing a number of difficult issues, as she attempts to manage her confidence and supply agreement with the DUP alongside differing views on Brexit within her own party.

“It is now the role of the United Kingdom to come back to us,” he said.

“I accept that Theresa May wants to come to an agreement and is acting in good faith and I want to give her time to speak with her party and partners in the confidence and supply agreement before we move things forward.”

No deal

In a statement this afternoon, the DUP’s leader in Westminster Nigel Dodds warned that further delays to the movement of talks towards Phase Two increase the chances of a ‘no trade deal’ outcome.

He claimed Ireland would “suffer far worse economically” from a no deal scenario than the UK adding that he believed Mr Varadkar was “playing a dangerous game - not with us but with his own economy.”

Strained relations

Speaking this afternoon, the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan acknowledged the impasse was straining relations between Dublin, London and Belfast – but warned that Ireland’s position on Brexit will not be changing.

“Oftentimes among neighbours and friends, frank talking is necessary,” he said.

“But I would hope that over the next few days we can see a successful conclusion to these negotiations.

“Ireland’s position being such as we are not moving from our stated position.”

European leaders will have to sign off on any agreement at next week’s European Commission summit in order for talks to move forward.

With the clock now very quickly ticking down there is, as yet, no sign of a breakthrough.