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Brexit

Leo Varadkar 'confused and puzzled' by trade agreement UK wants with EU

Foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney welcomes Secretary of State James Brokenshire to a meeting at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has said the British government's stance on trading relations with the European Union after Brexit is "not a realistic position".

Speaking during a three-day visit to Canada, he said the Irish government is "confused and puzzled" by what trade agreement the UK wants with the EU.

"At the moment they have the best trade deal possible, the best one imaginable, which is a customs union and access to the single European market and the European economic area," he said.

"What they seem to be suggesting all along really for the last 14 months now is that they want to have all the advantages of being in the EU but none of the responsibilities and costs, and that's not a realistic position."

Speaking to Bloomberg, Mr Varadkar added: "It's not yet clear to us these better deals that the British government really wants from Europe and from other countries, and I think some more clarity in that area would be very helpful."

The Republic's foreign affairs minister also warned British authorities yesterday that Ireland will not be used as a "pawn" in Brexit negotiations.

Simon Coveney also said sufficient progress on the future of the border has not been made during Brexit talks.

Speaking ahead of a meeting with Secretary of State James Brokenshire in Dublin, Mr Coveney said: "We do not want the Irish issue, the border issue, to be used as a pawn to try to pressurise for broader trade agreements."

He warned that in order for Brexit negotiations to move onto the next phase, "measurable and real progress" is needed.

Before the meeting, Mr Brokenshire insisted there was no possibility of the UK staying within a customs union post-Brexit.

He said that to do so would prevent the UK from negotiating international trade deals.

Following a meeting with the Irish and British Chamber of Commerce, he said there would be a period of implementation where the "UK would adhere closely to the existing customs union".

"But ultimately it is about the UK being able to negotiate international trade deals. We want to harness those freedoms. If we were to remain in the customs union that would prevent us from doing so," he said.

He added: "We are leaving EU, customs union and single market. We have set out options as to how we can achieve that frictionless trade."

Mr Coveney said the Irish government believes the best way to progress "the complexity of Britain leaving the European Union is for Britain to remain very close to the single market and effectively to remain part of the customs union".

"That would certainly make the issues on the island of Ireland an awful lot easier to manage.

"But of course the British government's stated position is not in agreement with that but that doesn't mean we won't continue to advocate for that.

"In the absence of that it is up to the British government to come up with flexible and imaginative solutions to actually try to deal with the specific island of Ireland issues."

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