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'Brexit seriously risks driving a wedge between the North and Ireland'

He also warned against Ireland returning into a “place of bloodshed and violence, of checkpoints”.

Leo Varadkar spoke at Queen's University today ahead of Belfast Pride.
Leo Varadkar spoke at Queen's University today ahead of Belfast Pride.
Image: Liam McBurney via PA Images

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said that he wants to be “building bridges not borders” with Northern Ireland in the aftermath of Brexit.

Speaking from Belfast today after meeting with DUP leader Arlene Foster and other political party leaders, he also repeated his opposition to an economic border.

“Brexit seriously risks driving a wedge between Northern Ireland and Ireland, between Britain and Ireland,” Varadkar said. ”And I cannot imagine who benefits from that.”

Cross-border infrastructure projects such as roads were made possible due to the current free movement of goods and people, he said.

“That’s our vision for the future: building bridges, not borders,” he said.

Varadkar said he would prefer if Britain remained in the EU, and failing that, for it to stay in the European single market to maintain the current free trade arrangements between Ireland and the UK.

Leo Varadkar visit to Northern Ireland DUP leader Arlene Foster speaking with media after meeting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Source: Liam McBurney via PA Images

Another way to smooth Britain’s departure would be to establish an EU-UK customs union, he said.

Noting that this type of deal existed with Turkey, he said, “Surely we can have one with the United Kingdom.”

In a speech at Queen’s University Belfast, he said the alternative could mean a return of customs posts, which he called “a brutal physical manifestation of historic divisions and political failure”.

Back then, south of the border was a very different place, a very different country to what it is today – confessional, inward-looking and under-developed by western European standards.
A place of bloodshed and violence, of checkpoints. A barrier to trade, prosperity and peace.

But he warned “the clock is ticking” to reach an agreement, as Britain began the two-year process of leaving the bloc in March.

‘Challenge of our lifetime’

A border between Northern Ireland and the Republic has been publicly highlighted as a top priority in the negotiations between Brussels and London, which began in June.

There are fears the return of a ‘hard’ border would disrupt the fragile peace in Northern Ireland, which was plagued by decades of unrest until a 1998 peace deal.

Varadkar described Brexit as “the challenge of our generation”, saying: “Every single aspect of life in Northern Ireland could be affected by the outcome.”

‘Nonsense,’ says the DUP

Varadkar’s visit to the north follows a barrage of verbal attacks by the DUP who weren’t happy when Varadkar said he favoured no border – economic or otherwise – between north and south.

“We’re not going to be helping them to design some sort of border that we don’t believe should exist in the first place,” he said.

His comments, which also expressed the hope of a U-turn over Brexit, provoked a furious reaction from the DUP.

“He may be hopeful, but that is disrespecting the will of the British people – Brexit is going to happen, we are leaving the European Union,” Foster said.

Deputy DUP leader Nigel Dodds went a bit further – he called Varadkar’s position on no border “nonsense” and said that the government had been going backwards since Enda Kenny left office.

Varadkar also called for the immediate restoration of the Stormont Assembly, which has been suspended since power-sharing collapsed earlier this year amid bitter divisions between the pro-British DUP and Irish nationalist Sinn Féin.

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha

© – AFP, 2017

Read: With young people in ‘Repeal’ jumpers beside him, Leo Varadkar was asked about the Eighth in Belfast today

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