Taoiseach demands talks with prime minister to voice Dublin’s ‘very strong concerns’, but Varadkar says London may just be ‘sabre-rattling’
Boris Johnson’s “kamikaze” threats to break international law have damaged trust and put a trade deal with the EU at risk, the Irish government has warned.
The warning from deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar came as Taoiseach Micheal Martin demanded a phone call with Mr Johnson to voice “very strong concerns” about the UK’s plans.
Ireland and other EU nations have reacted with alarm to legislation being published at Westminster today which would give UK ministers powers to overrule the arrangements for the sensitive Northern Irish border agreed by Mr Johnson with Brussels.
Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis yesterday told the House of Commons that the plans would break international law “in a very specific and limited way” in a safety net arrangement to ensure that goods continue to flow between the province and the British mainland if no UK/EU free trade agreement (FTA) is secured by the end of 2020.
Mr Martin told a news briefing in Dublin: “The timing of this initiative, the unilateral nature of this initiative, does not build trust and I will be speaking later this afternoon with the British prime minister to register our very strong concerns.”
And Mr Varadkar said the Northern Ireland secretary’s commits were “really extraordinary … and certainly set off alarm bells in Dublin”. But he suggested that they may amount to no more than “sabre-rattling” designed to scare the EU into making concessions on the fractious issues of fisheries and state aid which stand in the way of an FTA deal.
“I think they have backfired,” Varadkar told RTE radio.
“Certainly, the strategy and behaviour of the British government was one of brinkmanship, was one of threatening to crash out, you know, if you don’t, if we don’t get to an agreement we might go kamikaze on you, that sort of thing.
“The most benign assessment I can give you is that this is brinkmanship that this is sabre rattling.”
Mr Varadkar said there could not be a trade agreement with the EU in “circumstances where the UK government is not honouring the withdrawal agreement”, but said he thought Britain ultimately wanted a compromise.
“I think they want a deal,” he said. “It would seem that the sticking points are around fisheries, which is going to be a very difficult one, and also around state aids.
“They to me, would not seem insurmountable, and there is time.”
Varadkar said that a zero-tariff trade deal with the EU would remove the requirement for some of the controversial changes in legislation the British government has proposed to reduce trade friction between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
“That could be what they are playing at,” he said.
Asked about the chances of a EU-UK trade deal in the wake of the British move, Martin said: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way of getting a reasonable free-trade deal with no tariffs and no quotas.”