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Taoiseach expected to meet Boris Johnson in New York next week

“It is now time for Boris Johnson to produce his own proposals in writing – if they exist,” Finland’s prime minister Antti Rinne earlier said.

Image: Niall Carson

Updated Sep 19th 2019, 1:40 PM

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson “have been in contact” and hope to meet each other in New York next week, it has been confirmed.

Varadkar is due to travel to the US next week where he will give a speech at the special UN Summit on Climate Action in New York. 

He will then travel onwards to Los Angeles on a trade mission and will also inaugurate the new Irish consulate in LA. 

The spotlight is back on Johnson today, after he was given a 12-day timeline to set out his Brexit plan by the Finland’s prime minister.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the deadline given to Johnson “shows the level of frustration” in the EU. 

Finland’s prime minister Antti Rinne said he and French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday agreed the UK should give Europe a written copy of the proposals by the end of September.

“We both agreed that it is now time for Boris Johnson to produce his own proposals in writing – if they exist.

“If no proposals are received by the end of September, then it’s over,” Rinne told reporters after his meeting with Macron.

In response, a Downing Street source told BBC News that confidential documents that “reflect the ideas the UK has put forward” on Brexit have been shared with the EU. 

It is reported that UK ministers will table “formal written solutions when we are ready” and not to an “artificial deadline”, said the UK government. 

No credible alternatives

The lack of written legal documents from the UK is cause for concern to the Tanaiste.

With only a few weeks out from the Brexit deadline of 31 October, “we haven’t seen any credible alternatives” to the withdrawal agreement, said Coveney. 

“There is still a big gap from what the British government has been suggesting that they are looking for and what the EU and Ireland need in terms of getting a deal, and in order to close that gap we need to get credible proposals from the British government which we simply haven’t seen yet,” he added. 

Stating that he wanted to give a “straight answer” to reporters this morning, he said “until we get a proposal in writing then there isn’t a lot of credibility to what is being said” by the British side in terms of alternatives.  

He said legal text is required to solve the complex problems like the backstop, which Johnson wants removed from the withdrawal agreement. 

Coveney said he has asked his British counterparts why written text has not been provided yet, stating: 

We are running out of time… this is getting very real now.

He said he can only assume that the British government is working on written alternatives, stating: 

It is getting very late in the day now.

The Tánaiste encouraged the UK to submit the documents as soon as possible. 

While Coveney spoke to the media today, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid MP is meeting with Finance and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe in Dublin.

This is the third time the ministers have met in the eight weeks since the Chancellor took up his position, which the Department of Finance said in a statement this afternoon, reflects the importance of economic relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom.

“The ministers will discuss Brexit and the importance of maintaining a strong economic relationship as the UK leaves the EU. They will also exchange perspectives on the latest international economic developments,” it said. 

Speaking in advance of the engagement, Donohoe said:

It is a pleasure to welcome Sajid Javid to Dublin today. Our meeting is an opportunity to exchange perspectives on Brexit and the Withdrawal Agreement and to hear the views of our close friends and neighbours, while recognising that any negotiations are between the United Kingdom and the Taskforce.
This meeting presents an opportunity to further deepen engagement and to understand each other’s viewpoints. Brexit will bring challenges for the UK and for Ireland, but I look forward to seeing our relationship grow and strengthen in the coming years.

Commenting ahead of the visit Chancellor Javid said:

“Ireland is an essential partner for the United Kingdom, and I am determined that we maintain and enhance this relationship as we leave the EU.

“Our discussions today will also help improve our mutual understanding of the issues facing the UK and Ireland – and better understanding leads to better outcomes.

“Both countries remain steadfast in our commitment to upholding the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement as the UK leaves the EU on 31 October.”

The meeting of ministers comes follows on from a meeting held between DUP leader Arlene Foster and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Government Buildings last night. 

The meeting lasted for 45 minutes where they discussed Brexit and ongoing efforts to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly. A statement released after the meeting said they “agreed to stay in touch”.

Foster yesterday indicated for the first time that she may be open to a Brexit solution that would involve special arrangements for the North.

Speaking about the meeting today, Coveney said it was “positive” and “friendly”. 

“We need to be careful that this doesn’t get interpreted as some sort of break through because I don’t think it is,” he said, stating that the meeting “didn’t solve all problems”.  

rugby 426_90580184 Minister for Buisness, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphries TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney TD, Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport Shane Ross Source: Sam Boal

At the press conference today Transport Minister Shane Ross was also asked about whether he felt vindicated for stating some months ago that there would be customs checks, a statement that did not go down well with his Fine Gael colleagues at the time. 

In January, there was widespread surprise after the Independent Alliance TD suggested that Border checks would be inevitable in the event of a no-deal Brexit. 

At the time that Tánaiste Simon Coveney had to warn Ross not to discuss the possibility of Border checks in public for fear “that all of a sudden we’ll be the Government that reintroduced a physical border on the island of Ireland”.

Speaking in an interview with TheJournal.ie this month, Ross said: “I put my foot in it already by saying that checks were going to happen. Everyone took my head off and I was right.”

“I said it that day, and I was asked the question, I thought it was the honest reply, which it was. It was obvious.”

The TD admits that he “wasn’t very popular with my Fine Gael colleagues for saying it” but that “they were very good about it. They’d rather it was something I hadn’t said.

But, you know, it’s quite obvious now that there are going to be checks somewhere, where they are going to be I don’t know.

Standing next to the Tánaiste this morning, Ross said he was “premature” his statement in January adding that there “were a lot of things going on at the time”. 

“I don’t feel any sense of vindication, I feel what I said turned out to be true and lets leave it at that,” he said.

With reporting by Órla Ryan 

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