Leo Varadkar says any 'backstop' arrangement must not have a time limit on it
Leo Varadkar has insisted the British Prime Minister understands what is at stake with the Irish border – even if some in her Cabinet do not.
The Taoiseach was speaking after British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson played down Brexit concerns over the border as “pure millennium bug stuff.”
“There are so few firms that actually use that border regularly, it is just beyond belief that we’re allowing the tail to wag the dog in this way,” he said.
"We’re allowing the whole of our agenda to be dictated by this folly.”
He made the comments to Tory MPs and activists during a dinner, with the recording leaked to Buzzfeed.
Asked for his thoughts on the comments this morning, Mr Varadkar said: “I just don’t think it is accurate.”
“I know in the past he has described the border that exists – and there is a border of course between Northern Ireland and Ireland – as being similar to that between two London boroughs and it is just simply not the case.”
He said Mr Johnson would benefit from a visit to the border before negotiations go any further.
“I absolutely think that it would be beneficial for anyone involved in talks on Brexit to visit the border,” he said.
“David Davis has done that and I know a lot of European leaders have done that too.
“Certainly [European Commission president] Jean Claude Juncker is going to do it as well.”
“But as I say when it comes to wanting to know and understand what the British Government position is I listen to the Prime Minister, Theresa May and she understands it.”
Yesterday the British Government published proposals on the border that include a ‘backstop’ solution that would see the UK matching EU trade tariffs until a new trade deal can be negotiated.
The solution would go some way towards avoiding the need for checks at the border - for as long as the backstop is in place.
However, there are also concerns the plan only deals with customs difficulties – while regulatory problems remain unsolved.
Meanwhile, Irish and European politicians have warned that the British Government's attempt to limit the arrangement to 2021 is unnaceptable.
“When it comes to a legal guarantee that there will never be a hard border again on this island, I don’t think we can assume that it is achievable by 2021,” said Mr Varadkar.
“That is why it is very much the view of the Irish Government that the backstop - if it ever does have to come into place - should not have an expiry date on it.
“It should only expire if and when we have a new treaty that achieves what we all want to achieve; [...] no hard border on the island of Ireland.”
He noted that he does not want to see a border in Ireland “any more than I want to see a border between Northern Ireland and the rest UK – and that is really why we didn’t want Brexit in the first place.”
Meanwhile, the EUs chief negotiator has warned that any ‘backstop’ economic arrangement aimed at avoiding a hard border can't be extended to the whole of the UK.
Michel Barnier said the ‘backstop’ plan was meant for Northern Ireland – and may not work for the rest of the UK.
“Northern Ireland would form part of our customs territory,” he said.
“What is feasible for a territory the size of Northern Ireland is not necessarily feasible for the whole of the UK.”
The backstop plan envisioned by the EU – and published as part of its draft withdrawal agreement – would see a “common regulatory area” between the EU and UK established in the North.