Irish PM warns Boris Johnson;UK and EU will still have to negotiate, with same problems on agenda, he says
The Irish prime minister has warned Boris Johnson there will be no “clean break” from the EU, with further fraught negotiations to come if Britain crashes out of the bloc without a deal, The Guardian reports.
In a tough message to his British counterpart on the steps of Ireland’s Government Buildings, Leo Varadkar warned Britain would be back to square one on the very issues that it refuses to agree on now in a no-deal scenario.
“The story of Brexit will not end if the United Kingdom leaves on 31 October or even 31 January – there is no such thing as a clean break. No such thing as just getting it done. Rather, we just enter a new phase.
“If there is no deal, I believe that’s possible, it will cause severe disruption for British and Irish people alike. We will have to get back to the negotiating table. When we do, the first and only items on the agenda will be citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the Irish border. All the issues we had resolved in the withdrawal agreement we made with your predecessor. An agreement made in good faith by 28 governments,” he said.
Varadkar warned that even if a deal was agreed, the British should not be deluded about the future relationship talks.
“We will enter talks on a future relationship agreement between the EU and UK. It’s going to be tough dealing with issues ranging from tariffs to fishing rights, product standards and state aid. It will then have to be ratified by 31 parliaments,” he said.
He told Johnson free trade agreements (FTA) were notoriously difficult to strike but Ireland would be his friend and ally.
“Negotiating FTAs with the EU and US and securing their ratification in less than three years is going to be a herculean task for you. We want to be your friend and ally, your Athena, in doing so,” he said.
Johnson refused to answer questions about the Irish border or when he had last visited it, but said his preference was for a deal.
The two agreed there would be no breakthrough at their hour-long meeting on Monday morning but Johnson was confident the Irish border backstop could be replaced.
“Like you, I’ve looked carefully at no deal and I’ve assessed its consequences,” he said. “Be in no doubt, that outcome would be a failure of statecraft of which we would all be responsible. I would overwhelmingly prefer a solution.”
The hour-long meeting was described as “positive and constructive” with both leaders agreeing that “common ground was established in some areas although significant gaps remain”.
In a joint statement, they described the meeting as an “essential and timely opportunity for the Taoiseach and the prime minister to establish a relationship and a better understanding of each other’s positions”.
Varadkar’s words echoed those of his deputy, Simon Coveney, who told an audience that included Michael Gove on Friday that Anglo-Irish relations had been severely “dented” by a letter from Johnson to the European council president, Donald Tusk, in August in which the prime minister rowed back on commitments made by Theresa May to Ireland a year before she struck her Brexit deal.
Johnson confirmed he was moving ahead with his proposal to create a single regulatory zone north and south of the border for food and agriculture. Checks on animals and fresh produce would be carried out at ports and airports, rather than the border, and there would be pre-clearance systems for large, “trusted” traders.
Johnson said it would go “a long way” in solving the Irish
border problem, although Varadkar told reporters on Sunday it would not be
enough to replace the backstop in Theresa May’s deal.
Johnson said he did not underestimate the political sensitivities of the border issue but he would double down to find a solution for the “sake of business, farmers and millions of ordinary people”.
“I have one message that I want to land with you today Leo and that is that I want to find a deal. I want to get a deal,” he said.
“The landing zone is clear to everybody. We need to find a way in ensuring that the UK is not locked in the backstop arrangements so there is a way out while giving Ireland assurances that it needs.
Johnson denied not putting in the effort required to get a deal, saying he could not share the “abundance of proposals” on the table with the press.
No questions were allowed from British print journalists in a carefully managed press conference that took place before the talks, leaving Johnson unchallenged about Amber Rudd’s attack on his lack of deal planning or the prospect of him breaking the law to achieve Brexit on 31 October.
He said he was “undaunted by whatever may take place in parliament” but did not illuminate what this would entail.