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Saturday 14 December 2019

'United Ireland can solve Brexit', says Leo as DUP lash out

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has cast doubt on the latest Brexit proposals from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has cast doubt on the latest Brexit proposals from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Slim hopes of a Brexit deal are vanishing after the DUP launched an extraordinary attack on Leo Varadkar, saying he will “go down in history as the Taoiseach who restored a hard border”.

In one of her party’s most furious criticisms of the Irish Government yet, DUP leader Arlene Foster claimed Dublin had a “majoritarian desire to ride roughshod over unionism”.

She also accused Tanaiste Simon Coveney of making “deeply unhelpful, obstructionist and intransigent” remarks.

She was responding to his assertion that there are two “significant problems” with the alternative arrangements tabled by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Mr Coveney raised concerns that the plan includes customs checks on the island of Ireland and that the DUP would effectively be handed a veto on the situation every four years.

“We cannot support any proposal that suggests that one party, or indeed a minority, in Northern Ireland could make the decision for the majority in terms of how these proposals would be implemented in the future,” he told the Dail.

“That is not consistent with the Good Friday Agreement. It is not something we could possibly support as part of any final deal.”

A similar message was delivered by the Taoiseach on a trip to Scandinavia, where he is shoring up solidarity among EU states.

At a press conference in Sweden, Mr Varadkar did theorise that a united Ireland would be one way of keeping an open border on the island.

Solutions

He told reporters there are now polls which suggest there is a majority for Irish reunification as he offered it as one of five possible solutions to the Brexit crisis – and said it would be one that would be acceptable to the Government.

He said new UK plans for the border “fall short in a number of aspects” and the Government would not “countenance” putting checks between the North and the Republic in any Brexit deal.

The Taoiseach said there are five ways to avoid a border on the island:

- A united Ireland.

- The UK decides to stay in the EU.

- The UK remains in the EU’s single market and customs union.

- The backstop.

- Ireland rejoins the UK, which he said “is never going to happen”.

His comments drew the ire of the DUP, which has backed Mr Johnson’s proposal that Northern Ireland could remain aligned with the rules of the EU single market but must leave the customs union with the rest of the UK.

Ms Foster said the offer would be the final one and could not be amended further.

In London, Mr Johnson said his plans had been driven by the need to “protect” and “fortify” the Good Friday Agreement.

However, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said no Labour MP could support the “reckless deal”, which he said would jeopardise peace.

In his analysis, the Taoiseach cast doubt on Mr Johnson’s latest proposals to replace the backstop, saying he did not “fully understand” the suggestion that the North and the Republic be in different customs unions and that this would “somehow avoid there being tariffs, checks and customs posts on trade between North and South”.

He said there was “contradiction” between Mr Johnson’s assurances in the House of Commons yesterday that there would be no new customs infrastructure and the details of the UK’s submission to the EU’s Brexit negotiating team.

It is understood he reiterated these points in phone calls with EU Commission President Jean- Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk.

Mr Varadkar told journalists that Ireland was preparing a no-deal Budget for next week that would include a “very substantial package to save businesses that may be viable but vulnerable as a consequence of Brexit; save jobs that may be vulnerable but viable as a consequence of Brexit” and to support the tourism and agriculture sectors.

He said it would be “right and proper” for the Dail to have a vote on any Brexit deal if one is struck between the UK and the EU.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said a deal was possible but he would not put a percentage on it.

“Sweden stands in solidarity with Ireland. We all remember the violence during the Troubles very clearly and the Good Friday Agreement must not be put at risk,” he said.

Mr Varadkar is in Denmark today to open a new Enterprise Ireland office in Copenhagen and to meet Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

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