Political news

Taoiseach 'very confident' that a hard Brexit will be avoided

A sign for an abandoned customs office at the Irish border. Picture by Brian Lawless, Press Association

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has said he believes there will not be a hard Brexit.

At the close of the European Council summit in Brussels yesterday, Mr Varadkar voiced frustration at the lack of progress on the divorce bill Theresa May's government will have to foot.

And he also raised concerns there has been little movement on how the Irish border will look when the UK splits from the EU.

"I'm very much of the view that a hard Brexit can be avoided, that we will certainly have a transition period," he said.

"I'm very confident that can be achieved."

Mr Varadkar had revealed that the British Prime Minister told EU leaders over dinner on Thursday night that she would not accept a physical border on the island of Ireland.

The Taoiseach said there was widespread support from leaders at the summit over the Irish question.

"There's a real understanding I have to say around the table... that Ireland is unique, it is a very difficult situation and that this is not a problem of our creation," he said.

"I do think there will be flexibility for us."

The Taoiseach praised Mrs May's interventions at the summit on the issue of a global regime for taxing digital companies and on issues of trade.

"I'm really going to regret, really going to miss the UK around the table," Mr Varadkar said.

The Taoiseach said the issue of trade between Britain and Ireland remains unanswered but he cautioned that the proposal of a two-year period for bedding in Brexit would give people time to come to terms with any new arrangements.

He said the Government would continue to work on contingency plans.

"There's plenty of time in a transition period to make adjustments, to make preparations that are needed," he said.

"The whole point of a transition period is to give everyone, not just member states, but businesses and citizens time to prepare to make any permanent changes that have to be made."

The Taoiseach also said he does not expect Brexit to have any impact on the Common Travel Area between Britain and Ireland.

He also gave an optimistic view on the prospect of talks progressing in December.

"What we are not really looking to do as a Government is design a border, whether flexible or imaginative or anything else," the Taoiseach said.

Mr Varadkar said the solution should be political and one that allows Ireland and Britain to keep as close a trading arrangement as possible, or at the very least on the island of Ireland.

"I have always said this is more of a political question than a technical one, and that's very much what we're working towards," the Taoiseach said.

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