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British clarification assuages Irish Brexit alarm

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar


By Evan Short

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has welcomed a clarification from the British government’s Brexit Secretary, David Davis, on the deal reached at the end of last between the UK and the EU on the Irish border.

The agreement between the UK and the EU ensures that the Brexit negotiations can now move on to discuss a trade deal between Britain and Europe post Brexit.

However, during the weekend, Mr. Davis cast doubts on whether the agreement was legally binding.

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Speaking on Monday, however, he moved quickly to clarify his position.

“What I actually said yesterday in terms was, we want to protect the peace process, want to protect Ireland from the impact of Brexit for them.

“I said this was a statement of intent which was much more than just legally enforceable. Of course it’s legally enforceable under the withdrawal agreement but even if that didn’t happen for some reason, if something went wrong, we would still be seeking to provide a frictionless invisible border with Ireland.”

At the beginning of last week the DUP scuppered the original agreement drawn up between the UK government and the EU.

By Friday, British Prime Minister Theresa May was back in Brussels signing off on the new text, where a number of changes had been made to assuage the DUP.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said she was “pleased” that the changes to the text means there is “no red line down the Irish Sea.”

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams gave the deal a “cautious” welcome.

“It sets out broad principles and represents some progress but there are many unanswered questions around key issues and the Irish government must remain focused and vigilant,” Adams warned.

Mr. Varadkar said the Irish government had "achieved all we set out to achieve.” Among these achievements, he said, was that the Good Friday Agreement has been protected; everyone born in Northern Ireland will continue to have the right to Irish and EU citizenship; and the UK government has committed to having no hard border.

“Three options have been set out as how this can be achieved,” he said.

“Our preferred option is a deep and comprehensive agreement between the EU and the UK in its entirety which will allow us to trade as we do now.

“However, that might not be possible. So there is a backstop arrangement in which Northern Ireland, and perhaps all of the United Kingdom, will maintain full alignment with rules of the Internal Market and Customs Union which are relevant to the avoidance of a border, north-south co-operation and the all-island economy.”

He added: “To the nationalist people in Northern Ireland, I want to assure you that we have protected your interests throughout these negotiations.

“Your birth right as Irish citizens, and therefore as EU citizens, will be protected. There will be no hard border on our island. You will never again be left behind by an Irish government.”

“These rights will, of course, be available to everyone in Northern Ireland who chooses to exercise his or her right to be an Irish citizen, regardless of their political persuasion or religious beliefs.”