Taoiseach spells it out: no hard border, no matter what

Varadkar says he hopes Brexit-supporting politicians realise the problem they caused

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has spelled out in blunt terms what the Brexit agreement between the EU and the UK means to the Irish Government.

He said last week's deal, where the UK pledged to maintain full alignment with EU trade rules, provides a strong assurance against any hard border on the island of Ireland.

Mr Varadkar also took aim at Brexiteers, saying they created a problem that he and others must now attempt to resolve.

“There are lots of people for their own political reasons who are going to try to put a particular spin or complexion on what was agreed last week in the joint report. What I’m going to do is stand by the actual language there,” he said. “I’ve no need to interpret or spin in. It’s pretty clear to me.”


Mr Varadkar was speaking to journalists in Brussels on his way into the summit of European leaders which is taking place there today and tomorrow.

The Taoiseach used dictionary definitions to clarify the meaning of "maintaining full alignment" between Northern Ireland and the Republic – a key part in last week's agreement, in which the UK has committed to maintaining the same rules in the North as exist in the EU in the event of no agreement on the terms of the UK's exit.

“That’s very strong language. Maintain means keep as it is, of course; full means full, not partial; and alignment means keep in line,” Mr Varadkar said.

"What we're saying here is that in this backstop scenario, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland in particular, would maintain full alignment with the rules and regulations of the internal market and the customs union as a backstop arrangement and that gives us a very strong assurance that there won't be a hard border on the island of Ireland.

‘This is politics’

“But we’re not complacent either. You know, this is politics. And we’re going to need to stay very engaged in the months and years ahead and very vigilant too.”

Mr Varadkar also said that trade talks with the British would not begin immediately but that the EU would begin after Christmas with the focus on the transition phase.

“What has to happen now over the next few months is turning the commitments and principles in the joint report into the withdrawal agreement,” Mr Varadkar said.

The Taoiseach also appeared to take aim at the DUP. He said that politicians who supported Brexit should realise they are the ones who have caused the North-South problem and that he is the person trying to fix it.

Asked if he had a message for unionists about their fears of an all-Ireland agenda, he said: “What we want to continue on the island of Ireland is exactly what we’ve had for the last 20 years – which is peace and freedom of movement and free trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland and indeed between Ireland and Britain.

“What’s disrupting that is Brexit. And I’d hope that some of the people who perhaps supported Brexit and campaigned for that would realise or at least acknowledge that they’re the ones who created this problem and I’m one of the people who is trying to resolve it, trying to retain what we’ve had now for 20 years – peace on our island, for most of the past 20 years power-sharing and for all of those 20 years free movement of people, goods, services and trade between Britain and Ireland and within Ireland and that’s what I’m working towards,” Mr Varadkar said.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times