“Unique solution needed for north”

Posted By: August 11, 2017

Varadkar: UK could rejoin free trade association

John Manley. Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, August 5, 2017

Leo Varadkar has again voiced his hope that the UK will remain in the EU but has insisted that in the event of a hard Brexit Northern Ireland will require a “unique solution.”

The Taoiseach also dispelled the claim that the Dublin government advocated a “sea border” around Ireland.

Speaking in Belfast yesterday on his first visit north since becoming Fine Gael leader, he said a second referendum on EU membership would likely have a different outcome than last year’s shock result. However, he said if the UK was determined to sever ties with Brussels creating trade barriers would be in nobody’s interests.

Addressing an invited audience in Queen’s University’s Lanyon Building, Mr. Varadkar stressed  the need for greater understanding and cooperation between north and south in the face of the major upheaval caused by Brexit.

Much of his speech focused on the implications of the UK’s decision to leave the EU and how it had the potential to unravel the progress made in recent decades.

He said “every single aspect of life” in Northern Ireland could be affected by the outcome of the forthcoming Brexit negotiations – from jobs and tourism to fisheries and aviation.

The Taoiseach said the “clock was ticking” and that in October, he would be one of 27 EU prime ministers who together decide whether sufficient progress has been made to the Brexit negotiations to proceed to the next phase.

Pointing to potential post-Brexit “practical solutions”, Mr. Varadkar said if the UK left the customs union and single market, he wanted consideration given to bilateral trading arrangements with the EU, such as exists with Turkey, alongside a free trade agreement of the kind Norway enjoys.

He said a so-called hard Brexit would require a “unique solution” for the north but said he wanted others to help ensure such a scenario did not become reality.

“I would hope unionist parties for example, who would be keen to preserve and protect the union, would see how it is much easier to do that if in fact the United Kingdom stays in the customs union and stays in the single market because that takes away any need for any sort special arrangement or bespoke solution for Northern Ireland at all,” he said.

Responding to the ongoing controversy around reports that his administration favored shifting immigration and customs checks to ports and airports, Mr. Varadkar said it was not a proposal he was tabling.

“I wouldn’t like us to be in that position,” he said.

He again challenged Brexiteers to explain why a hard Brexit, with trade tariffs and customs restrictions, would benefit either the UK or Europe.

“If they can’t come up with those solutions, well then maybe they might talk about mine because the ones I have put forward are workable,” he said.

The Fine Gael leader said he was working on the assumption that Brexit would go ahead but remained hopeful that there would be a U-turn.

He said that throughout political history there were examples of people changing their minds.

“I’m an optimist. I’m conscious that in Ireland for example that we voted against the Lisbon Treaty and we were able to negotiate guarantees and changes and then we took a different view,” he said.

“I know here in Northern Ireland, there are people who voted against the Good Friday Agreement but

subsequently there was a St Andrews Agreement which allowed them to effectively come on board.”

The Taoiseach said the right of people in Northern Ireland to be European would remain after Brexit.

He said “this part of Ireland and this part of the UK” was “truly unique” and required bespoke solutions to ensure the progress of recent years was preserved.

“For too long, we have allowed competing identities, competing cultures, even competing histories, to be used to define ourselves and to define our neighbors,” he said.