Northern Ireland news

Leo Varadkar says no-deal Brexit is unlikely

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks to the media following a meeting with business representatives in Belfast to discuss Brexit. Picture by Brian Lawless, Press Association
Rebecca Black, Press Association

IT is unlikely that the United Kingdom will crash out of the European Union without a deal, the taoiseach has said.

Speaking in Belfast after meeting Northern Ireland's business leaders about Brexit, Leo Varadkar said he did not envisage the UK will leave the bloc without a formal accord.

The Irish government is making preparations for a no-deal Brexit, but Mr Varadkar said last night that he believes there will either be a deal or an extension to the negotiations.

"We are entering quite a sensitive period over the next week or two in the run-up to the next set of votes in the House of Commons on March 12 and the European Council summit which happens the week after," he said.

"I don't want to say too much about it at this stage but I think that the United Kingdom crashing out of the European Union without a deal on March 29 is unlikely.

"I think that we either will have a deal or we will have an extension but as is always the case, we have to work hard to achieve that withdrawal agreement, to get it ratified and also prepare for the worst-case scenario in case that arises."

Referring to the Conservative Party's confidence and supply deal with the DUP, Mr Varadkar said he feels it has created a "new dynamic" in politics.

"My view as the head of the Irish government is that we should try to be honest brokers and be impartial when it comes to dealing with the different political parties in Northern Ireland, to work with everyone and also to listen to all sides," he said.

"I think that the fact the DUP confidence and supply deal has created a new dynamic, whether it is true or not, some people certainly perceive that it means that the British Government listens more to the DUP than to other parties.

"We see for example that Fianna Fáil has decided to create a similar partnership with the SDLP which could create a similar dynamic were they to re-enter government south of the border.

"My view is that we should try to speak to all parties, be an honest broker, but I particularly want to reach out to the centre ground, people in politics and not in politics who share a vision as to how we can work together, put the past behind us and build a much better future."

Mr Varadkar ruled out running Fine Gael candidates in Northern Ireland.

"No, no, we won't be doing that. Not in the foreseeable future," he said.

Later, speaking at a gathering of the Alliance Party in Belfast, Mr Varadkar expressed concern that Brexit has affected the Good Friday Agreement.

"I am deeply concerned at how Brexit has already weakened the agreement and I am concerned that anything that creates new differences - divergence between Britain and Ireland - will undermine it more," he said.

"We cannot allow that to happen."

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