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13th Aug 2022

Irish PM 'surprised and disappointed' by Brexit setback

  • Irish PM Varadkar said Dublin already had an agreement with the UK and the EU over Brexit (Photo: Annika Haas (EU2017EE))

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar said Monday evening (4 December) he was "surprised and disappointed" with the lack of a deal on Brexit divorce issues in Brussels.

British prime minister Theresa May had met for lunch with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier earlier the same day to hammer out the final details of an agreement on divorce issues.

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One of those outstanding issues was the future Irish border, with the Republic of Ireland seeking British assurances that Northern Ireland will continue to align itself with EU regulations after Brexit to avoid a hard border on the island.

But in what appeared to be a last-minute turnaround, the expected agreement fell through due to fierce opposition by May's allies, Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Varadkar said Monday evening at a press conference in Dublin that a text had been agreed in the morning by Ireland, the UK, and the EU Brexit task force on regulatory alignment in Northern Ireland.

"It is evident that things broke down during the lunch in Brussels. The [British] prime minister has asked for more time," Varadkar said.

The Taoiseach said the text agreed on Monday morning had provided the necessary assurances for Ireland, and added that so far he has received no request to change the wording.

Varadkar refused to assign blame to the DUP or to May, saying: "I don't think it would be useful to point fingers at any group of people."

He said he was still hopeful of an agreement by next week's summit where EU leaders will decide whether to give the green light for the next phase of talks between the UK and the EU - on a post-Brexit transition deal and on future relations - if there is enough progress on the divorce issues.

"We want to move onto phase two, that's what people need," Varadkar said.

He did not rule out a possible extraordinary EU summit in January to deal with the issue, however.

In an effort to quell accusations that his government wanted to pull Northern Ireland closer to the Republic of Ireland, Varadkar said: "I want to offer reassurance that there's no hidden agenda here, our only guiding light is the Good Friday agreement [Northern Ireland's peace accord]."

Juncker and May both said they were confident that an agreement can be reached by the EU summit next week.

But time is running out for member states to agree on the guidelines that will shape the second phase of talks, expected to be adopted by EU leaders next week.

European Council chief Donald Tusk tweeted after meeting May on Monday that he "was ready to present draft EU27 guidelines tomorrow for Brexit talks on transition and future."

He noted that the UK and the Commission had "asked for more time". He added that "it is now getting very tight" but that an agreement at the summit on 14 December "is still possible".

EU-27 diplomats will meet on Wednesday, while member states' EU policy chiefs, so-called sherpas, will meet next Monday to work on the guidelines if there is an agreement between the EU and the UK.

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