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Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson (finally) speak by phone and UK PM asserts Brexit 'no matter what'

Downing Street said Johnson’s government would approach any Brexit talks “in a spirit of friendship”.

The pair have spoken for the first time since Johnson assumed office.
The pair have spoken for the first time since Johnson assumed office.
Image: PA Images

Updated Jul 30th 2019, 1:57 PM

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson have spoken by phone this morning. 

The contact comes almost a week after Johnson assumed office in Downing Street last Wednesday.

In a statement this afternoon, the Department of the Taoiseach said that Varadkar “congratulated the Prime Minister on his appointment and said he looked forward to having a long and close working relationship”.

The pair spoke about Brexit with the department saying that the Taoiseach emphasised that the backstop “was necessary as a consequence of decisions taken in the UK and by the UK government”.  

“Noting that the Brexit negotiations take place between the UK and the EU, the Taoiseach explained that the EU was united in its view that the Withdrawal Agreement could not be reopened,” the department said.

Alternative arrangements could replace the backstop in the future, as envisaged in the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on the future relationship, but thus far satisfactory options have yet to be identified and demonstrated. 

In its statement following the phonecall, Downing Street said that Johnson “made clear that the UK will be leaving the EU on October 31, no matter what”.  

“He said that in all scenarios, the government will be steadfast in its commitment to the Belfast Agreement and will never put physical checks or physical infrastructure on the border,” Downing Street said.

It added:

The Prime Minister made clear that the government will approach any negotiations which take place with determination and energy and in a spirit of friendship, and that his clear preference is to leave the EU with a deal, but it must be one that abolishes the backstop.

Downing Street also said: “Both leaders underscored their commitment to working closely together in the spirit of the warm and deep relationship between the UK and Ireland”.

Varadkar also invited Johnson to Dublin to speak about Brexit other bilateral matters.

Britain Politics Johnson during a speech in Manchester over the weekend. Source: Rui Vieira/PA Images

 

On Northern Ireland, the Department of the Taoiseach said:

The Taoiseach restated the need for both governments to be fully committed to the Good Friday Agreement, the protection of the peace process and the restoration of the Northern Ireland institutions.  He recalled that the Agreement requires the sovereign government to exercise power with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in full respect for their rights, equality, parity of esteem and just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities. 

On the process of restoring the Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland, both leaders expressed their determination to see this happen as quickly as possible. 

Downing Street said it also regarded the restoration of an executive in Northern Ireland as a priority:

The Prime Minister said the ongoing talks have his unequivocal support and that he wanted to continue to work closely with the Irish government to help drive the process towards a successful conclusion. 

The delay in contact between the two counterparts led to further questions about the state of British-Irish relations.

A call between the two offices is arranged when a new leader enters 10 Downing Street.

Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny spoke with Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May on her first day in office in 2016, Brian Cowen did the same on the day David Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010, while in 2007, Bertie Ahern spoke to Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown on the day he assumed office.

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Rónán Duffy

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