Northern Ireland news

Leo Varadkar does not expect a breakthrough at meeting with Boris Johnson

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (third left) and European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee (left) with port and customs officials during a visit to new physical infrastructure at Dublin Port. Picture by Brian Lawless, Press Association
Aoife Moore, Press Association

THE Taoiseach says he does not expect a breakthrough at his meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson today.

Mr Johnson is due to meet Leo Varadkar in his first visit to Dublin as prime minister.

"I don't think the meeting is a high stakes meeting, as I don't anticipate a big breakthrough, if we come to an agreement that agreement will happen in October at the EU summit," Mr Varadkar said.

"But the stakes are high, certainly I don't think anyone can argue with that."

Mr Varadkar is expected to tell Mr Johnson that the Republic's priority is to protect the rights of people in Northern Ireland and the peace process after the UK leaves the European Union.

The Irish government has consistently stressed that negotiations on Brexit will only take place between the UK and the EU27, and the meeting will be about "sharing ideas" rather than negotiating bilaterally on the UK leaving the EU.

"It will be an opportunity to get to know each other a little bit better, to see if there is common ground, I'm sure there will be," Mr Varadkar added.

"I'd hope that an opportunity to share each other's analysis and an opportunity to talk about some of the issues will be helpful."

He added: "The situation in the UK is very fluid at the moment, Prime Minister May, with a parliamentary majority was not able to get a deal through the House of Commons.

"Prime Minister Johnson doesn't have a majority, so I'll be asking him how can he convince us that he is actually capable or has the votes to get a deal through."

In the event of no-deal, Mr Varadkar said it will not be possible to talk about a free trade agreement between the two countries until issues around the border, citizens' rights and the financial settlement associated with the UK leaving the EU are resolved - problems which he said were already resolved in the Withdrawal Agreement.

"I am loathe to speculate, but if we end up in a no-deal scenario on November 1, I do think within weeks or months the EU and UK will have to sit down round the table and negotiate again, but it would be a tragedy if we got to that point," he said.

Mr Varadkar said yesterday he understands criticism that border checks in a no-deal Brexit undermine the Good Friday Agreement.

He said there will be checks on goods and live animals which would take place "as far as possible" in ports, airports and at businesses.

"But some may need to take place near the border," he said.

Mr Varadkar was speaking at Dublin Port, where he was inspecting the new examination and customs buildings erected as part of the government's ongoing preparations for Brexit - to meet the requirements for new checks on consignments of goods imported from, or going to the UK.

The concession has been met with criticism, as many view the emergence of any infrastructure near or on the border as in contravention of the Good Friday Agreement.

"I understand the criticism and certainly no one in the Irish government wants there to be checks near the border, between north and south," Mr Varadkar said.

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