EU and Ireland issue Irish border Brexit warning to Theresa May: 'There isn't much time left'

(Photo by Matt Dunham – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

LONDON – Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned Theresa May that “there isn’t much time left” to find a solution to the Irish border dilemma which holds the key to a final Brexit deal.

Speaking in Dublin alongside European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, Varadkar said a Brexit deal which doesn’t include guarantees for keeping the Irish border open “is of no use to us whatsoever.”

“Let me blunt, there isn’t much time left if we are to conclude an agreement and have it operational by the time the UK leaves next March,” Varadkar told reporters on Thursday.

Brexit talks are currently at an impasse over the “backstop” – the fallback arrangement if negotiations over a future trade deal between Britain and EU fail to solve the Irish border question. May has promised to preserve the frictionless border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, meaning there will be no checks or infrastructure.

The EU wants the backstop to involve Northern Ireland staying in the single market and customs union indefinitely after Brexit. However, Prime Minister May has described this as unacceptable, while UK government ministers want the backstop to be time-limited. There can be no final deal unless this issue is solved.

“The most important element to me is the backstop, Varadkar said on Thursday morning. “The Withdrawal Agreement without a backstop is of no use to us whatsoever.

“It’s very simple,” he added.

“The UK gave the EU back in December a guarantee there’d be no hard border on the island of Ireland. In May, the prime minister wrote to the EU to say there’d be a backstop. We expect those commitments to be met in full.”

He added that drama in Westminster this week over the “meaningful vote” amendment wasn’t helping efforts to solve the Irish border conundrum, saying: “British politics isn’t my concern.”

Varadkar’s deputy, T├ínaiste Simon Coveney, offered a blunt assessment of the UK government’s progress.

“We had asked for and looked for significant progress in June. The British government have been unable to deliver on that,” he told reporters.

The Irish government was supported by Juncker, who said: “Ireland is not alone. It is backed by 26 member states… Ireland has to be part of the deal.”

EU leaders will meet in Brussels next week for the European Council’s latest summit, with Brexit set to be one of the issues on the agenda.

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