herald

Saturday 19 October 2019

Varadkar set for Boris showdown as secret file warns of sea blockades

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is to hold last-ditch talks with Boris Johnson as Irish trawlers face an uncertain future
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is to hold last-ditch talks with Boris Johnson as Irish trawlers face an uncertain future

A secret Government memo has warned of "conflict at sea" and "blockades" in Irish waters in the aftermath of a no-deal Brexit.

Ministers have been told that the loss of access to UK fishing zones could displace boats from other EU countries. As fishermen seek new waters trouble could escalate "at an early stage" and has the potential to have "a significant impact on the Irish fishing industry".

The Herald understands the confidential briefing from Tanaiste Simon Coveney also outlined how disruption at Dublin Port could undermine public confidence in the security of food and medicine supplies.

Trap

This could lead to panic buying among consumers and deplete stockpiles built up over recent months.

The revelations comes as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar travels to a confidential location in Liverpool for a final showdown with Prime Minister Boris Johnson before an EU summit decides the future of Brexit.

Journalists are being kept away from the meeting which EU officials believe could prove a defining moment in the three-year process.

Sources told the Herald that the meeting offers "the last bit of hope" that a deal can be achieved ahead of the EU Council Summit next week. However, there are some concerns on the Irish side that they are walking into a trap as Mr Johnson tries to spare himself of any blame for the Brexit chaos.

Depending on the outcome of their discussion, the two leaders may issue a joint statement and a photograph of the encounter.

However, it is far from certain that they will find any common ground.

Sources said Mr Varadkar has carefully noted Downing Street's treatment of German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this week. Members of Mr Johnson's backroom revealed that she effectively pulled the plug on any chance of a Brexit ever being achieved.

The Taoiseach's meeting will take place amid a growing sense in Europe that an extension is now the only viable option.

The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said there is still no basis for a deal. He said the EU has yet to see any "operational, legally binding solution" to the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop.

Addressing the European Parliament in Brussels, he said Boris Johnson's proposals to avoid the return of a hard border with the Irish Republic were based on a system "that hasn't been properly developed, that hasn't been tested".

Mr Barnier said the EU side would continue to work in a "calm" and "constructive" manner to try to find an agreement.

Blame

But he made clear that Mr Johnson's blueprint - which would require the return of customs checks on the island of Ireland - was not the basis for a solution.

"To put things very frankly, though, and to try and be objective, (at) this particular point, we are not really in a position where we are able to find an agreement," he said.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told the EU parliament that they would not get drawn into a "blame game".

"Personally I don't exclude a deal. We are, Michel and myself, working on a deal. We are not accepting this blame game which started in London," he said.

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