- Thomson Reuters
- Irish premier Leo Varadkar says the UK risks crashing out of the EU without a deal.
- He says the EU is “yet to see anything that remotely approaches” to the Irish border issue.
- “We need to seriously question if we’re going to have a Withdrawal Agreement,” he adds.
Ireland’s prime minister Leo Varadkar cast serious doubt on the future of Brexit talks on Thursday morning, suggesting that the UK risks crashing out of the EU without a deal if government infighting continues until June.
Speaking before his meeting with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, the Taoiseach told reporters in Bulgarian capital Sofia: “We need to seriously question if we’re going to have a Withdrawal Agreement.”
Britain has just a few weeks before the European Council summit in June to agree on a solution which would avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, but the government has failed even to offer any potential solutions in Brussels as May’s cabinet rows internally about the best solution.
Failure to avoid a hard border in Ireland would mean the EU does not formally sign off the Withdrawal Agreement and would therefore mean the UK left the EU in March next year without even a transition period.
“We need to know that [the Withdrawal Agreement] is workable and legally operable, but we’re yet to see anything that remotely approaches that,” Varadkar told the Irish Independent.
“We need to have that backstop because that ensures that there will be no hard border on our island. If the United Kingdom wants to put forward alternatives to that – whether it’s an alternative text to the backstop – or some sort of alternative future relationship between the UK and the EU, we’re willing to examine that but we need to see it written down in black and white.”
There were multiple reports on Thursday morning that the UK is willing to extend its membership of the customs union well beyond December 2020, when the transition period would end, in order to create time to implement new customs proposals and avoid a hard border in Ireland.
But UK negotiators are yet to table any offer in Brussels, where negotiators are likely to have significant objections to the plans.
The UK officially needs to reach a final agreement on the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement in October, but the EU and UK both expect to have made significant progress by the Council summit in June, which at the moment appears doubtful.
“As the Tanaiste [his deputy Simon Coveney] and I have said on many occasions the European Council will review progress in June,” said Varadkar.
“The deadline for the Withdrawal Agreement, of course, is October but if we’re not making substantial progress by June, then we need to seriously question if we’re going to have a Withdrawal Agreement.”