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Tuesday 18 September 2018

'Ireland will come first' in negotiation of Brexit, vows EU president Juncker

Jean-Claude Juncker with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin
Jean-Claude Juncker with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin

Ireland will not be abandoned in the final moment of the Brexit negotiations if there is still no deal on the Border, Europe's top leaders have promised.

As UK politicians continue to fight over their definition of Brexit, the EU put on a show of unity in Dublin yesterday.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, chief negotiator Michel Barnier and EU Council boss Donald Tusk all committed to fighting Ireland's cause in the final stages of the talks.

Priority

Fears have been raised that in a bid to secure some form of orderly Brexit, the Irish issue may be sidelined.

But Mr Juncker said: "I am strongly against any temptation to isolate Ireland and not to conclude the deal on Ireland. Ireland has to be part of the deal."

He said the EU taskforce will take "a pragmatic approach to finding solutions", adding: "But I also want to be clear, Ireland will come first."

Speaking in a historic address to a joint sitting of the Dail and Seanad, he said: "There are those who think that the other 26 countries will abandon Ireland at the last minute for a separate deal that suits them.

"Those people have not understood what being part of our Union means. Ireland's Border is Europe's border and it is our Union's priority."

The Irish government has become increasingly frustrated with the UK in recent weeks over the lack of workable proposals for maintaining an open border after Brexit.

Sources indicated last night that the timing of Mr Juncker and Mr Barnier's visit to Dublin yesterday "was no accident".

"We got exactly what we wanted from it which was a show of unity and guarantees that there will be no final deal unless the Irish issue is addressed. The UK should now know that playing down the clock isn't an option," one official said.

After the events in Leinster House involving Mr Juncker and Mr Barnier, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar held a conference call with Mr Tusk.

Sources say he "reaffirmed his very strong support" and confirmed he is "100pc behind Ireland".

EU leaders will gather in Brussels next week to discuss the next steps in relation to Brexit.

While insufficient progress has been on the Irish Border, the Government has decided not to seek a pause in the negotiations, believing the show of unity yesterday is enough to prove Ireland is central to talks.

Mr Varadkar said there is an urgent need to "intensify" negotiations.

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