Brexit

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar does not expect EU's Brexit position to change

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he did not expect the EU to change their negotiating position on Brexit despite pressure from the British government to do so

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he does not expect any change in the EU's Brexit position following high-level meetings later this week.

European leaders will gather for an informal summit in Salzburg in Austria.

The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier will brief heads of government and British prime minister Theresa May is likely to put forward her own views.

The informal nature of the event means there will be no draft text or formal conclusions.

The taoiseach told the Dáil: "I do not anticipate there will be any change to the EU's position or any change to our negotiating guidelines."

European leaders have been urged by the UK to compromise on their Brexit stance on the eve of the major summit.

Ms May will use today's gathering in Salzburg to make a direct pitch to fellow leaders to back her divisive Chequers proposals.

Britian's Brexit secretary Dominic Raab said it was time for the "compromises" made by the UK to be "matched on the EU side".

In a sign that Brexit talks could go to the wire, the European Union is preparing for a final deal to be struck at an emergency summit in November, rather than the scheduled October meeting previously targeted by both sides in the negotiations.

Mr Varadkar added: "It is fair to say that some of the things I have been reading in the British papers, particularly the British-owned papers, are very far off the mark when it comes to the reality of what is going on at the minute with these negotiations."

He said the draft withdrawal agreement between the UK and EU in December provided for various protections sought by the Irish government including transitional arrangements and the movement of people between the UK and Ireland.

The taoiseach said the backstop on the Irish border represented an "insurance policy" which he never hoped to use.

Mr Varadkar was challenged by the leader of the Republic's Labour Party, Brendan Howlin, about the Common Travel Area, which guarantees free movement of Irish and UK citizens between the two jurisdictions and said the draft Brexit Withdrawal Agreement provided for what the Dublin government needed.

Mr Howlin said the backstop did not represent the entirety of the Republic's interests.

He claimed: "Brexit could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of people living in the UK."

The political leader said the issue should be addressed as a matter of urgency and expressed fears Ireland could be "blind-sided" over Brexit.

The taoiseach said he would not provide a running commentary on negotiations.

He also said Mr Barnier's suggestion that the Irish border issue be "de-dramatised" was about trying to move away from language like creating a border in the Irish Sea.

A frontier in the Irish Sea has been strongly opposed by unionists who want to avoid any barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Mr Varadkar denied any "constitutional move" by the Irish Government to question Northern Ireland's status as a part of the UK during the Brexit negotiations.

He reiterated he was equally keen to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and Scotland as between the north and the Republic.

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