Taoiseach Varadkar fears British soldiers may return to NI border as Ireland being ‘victimised’ by Brexit

Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Varadkar fears British soldiers may return to NI border as Ireland being ‘victimised’ by Brexit

Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says Ireland is being ‘victimised’ by the Brexit process and he now fears that British soldiers may return to the North.

That’s a scenario likely to send a shudder through those who remember and lived through the Troubles.

Mr Varadkar was speaking in an interview with Bloomberg TV from Davos where is attending the annual World Economic Forum.

Northern Ireland has become the main focal point of the Brexit negotiations because it will form the border between the UK and the EU once Britain leaves the European Union. All sides have agreed that there should be no return to a hard border involving physical barriers and customs checks.

The problem is how to achieve that. British Prime Minister Theresa May reached a backstop agreement with the EU that the UK would effectively remain in a customs union with the EU if no better solution emerged during negotiations for a trade deal.

However, the agreement was heavily defeated in the British House of Commons and the search for a new solution continues, with many fearing that there will now be no deal that is acceptable to all sides and that a hard border will have to installed between the Republic and the North.

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Mr Varadkar said it was the UK’s responsibility to find a solution to end the seemingly irreconcilable differences.

He said: “The UK wanted a review clause in the backstop and we agreed to that, the UK wanted a UK-wide element, so why is it the country that is being victimised is the one that’s always asked to give?”

“We’re the ones already giving.”

He made it clear that a hard border would be unacceptable and damaging for all concerned.

“It would involve customs posts. It would involve people in uniform and it may involve the need, for example, for cameras, physical infrastructure, possibly a police presence, or an army presence to back it up.

“The problem with that in the context of Irish politics and history is those things become targets – and we’ve already had a certain degree of violence in the last few weeks.

“I just don’t want to see that come back.”

Mr Varadkar says the UK must be prepared to compromise more, which means Mrs May would have to revise what she calls her red lines, which she refuses to cross. These include leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union, and ending the free movement of people between the UK and the EU.

“We have always been open to compromise and we have always been willing to listen to any proposals that the UK government may have, and as the EU has said on several occasions, if the UK was willing to change its red lines then of course our position could evolve.

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“Let’s not forget that this withdrawal agreement is an agreement that was drawn around all the self-imposed red lines that the UK set for itself, leaving the customs union, leaving the single market, and not accepting the jurisdiction of the ECJ and the backstop was designed with them.”

He pointed out that Ireland would accept a backstop that only applied to Northern Ireland, that didn’t apply to Britain, but the UK government insisted it should apply to the whole UK.

“I know a lot of people, when they talk about Brexit, they talk about the impact on trade and jobs and the economy and immigration and all those things that are important, but for Ireland, it’s something very different.

“We have peace in Ireland and Northern Ireland, closer cooperation north and south and power sharing most of the time, and at the heart of that was the European Union, because EU membership swept away so many of the differences between north and south and between people.

“What we’re looking for, what we’ve been looking for from day one, is an assurance that Brexit decision that the UK has made, one that was made against the wishes of the people in Northern Ireland, one that Ireland was not consulted about.

“We want a legal guarantee and an operable mechanism which will ensure we don’t lose all the progress that has been made in the last 20 years in Ireland in terms of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement.

“We don’t want that to be undermined, and what the backstop is a means to an end.”

Mr Varadkar rejected the suggestion that a hard border could be avoided by using advanced technology, a solution favoured by most Brexit supporters in the UK.

“I have yet to have anyone demonstrate to me a technology that can look into a truck and tell me whether there’s hormones in the beef or not.

“The objective is avoiding a hard border. The backstop is the means by which we achieve that.

“Why would we give up a legal guarantee, and something that we know will work in practice, for a promise to sort it out later, or a promise to invent technologies that don’t exist yet, that will work that’s legally binding. That’s just not a serious position.”

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