- Leo Varadkar warns that “clock is ticking” to solve Northern Ireland border problem.
- Theresa May’s decision to leave the customs union has caused fears of a new hard border.
- Progress must be made on the issue before October, otherwise, Brexit negotiations will stall.
- Irish Taoiseach compares scale of the problem to the First World War.
LONDON — The Irish Taoiseach today warned that time is running out to avoid a post-Brexit hard border between the UK and Ireland, as uncertainty over the issue continues to grow.
In his first visit to Northern Ireland, Leo Varadkar insisted that he wanted “more bridges and fewer borders” but warned that the clock was quickly ticking away before the issue had to be resolved.
“It is my hope that progress will be made on those issues… but I do not for a second underestimate the enormity of the challenge,” he said
The UK government’s decision to leave the customs union has thrown the future of the Northern Ireland border into doubt. Experts suggest that some form of new customs checks will be needed in order to prevent smuggling between the UK and EU.
However, both the UK and Irish governments are keen to avoid any hard border, amid fears that it could derail the peace process in Northern Ireland.
The EU has insisted that significant progress must be made on the issue before this October, otherwise, Brexit negotiations will not progress to the next stage.
Varadkar warned today that “time is running out,” to resolve the issue, adding that “I fear no extra time will be allowed.”
Both the UK and Ireland are opposed to any new “hard” border, with Prime Minister Theresa May’s government pushing for some kind of technological solution, akin to that seen on the Norway-Sweden border.
However, Varadkar said last month that such solutions were unlikely to be found and insisted that it was down to the UK to resolve the issue, adding that Ireland would not help design a “border for the Brexiteers.”
The Taoiseach today suggested that the UK could instead join a new UK-EU customs union as an alternative to being a member of the EU customs union.
Brexit is the challenge of our generation.
Varadkar today compared Brexit to the struggles of the First World War.
“If the challenge of the first world war was for that generation then I think the challenge for this generation is Brexit,” he said.
“Every single aspect of life in Northern Ireland could be affected by the outcome. Your jobs and economy, the border, the rights of EU citizens, the rights of cross border workers, research funding, trade, agriculture, energy, our fisheries, EU funding, public service, the list goes on.”
Varadkar described Brexit as a “tragedy” and held out hope that Britain would still decide to change course.
“It’s a tragedy of the Brexit debate that this common European identity is not valued by everyone on these islands,” he said.