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Taoiseach doesn't think no-deal Brexit is 'inevitable' but wants end to 'political purgatory'

Political leaders were out in force for the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit today at Dublin Castle.

Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said that the UK isn’t doing itself any favours for its future aims of striking trade deals with other countries given the current impasse on Brexit.

After Theresa May’s latest defeat in the House of Commons yesterday after members of her own party turned on her again, the looming date for the UK to leave the EU on 29 March has been brought into sharper view.

With Ireland and the EU refusing to back down on the backstop, and May unable to secure backing for the withdrawal deal that includes it, the threat of a no-deal Brexit remains a pressing one. 

Varadkar was speaking at Dublin Castle today ahead of a meeting of the All-Island Civil Dialogue on Brexit, and said that he doesn’t think a no-deal is “inevitable”.

“I think it’s within the power of the UK to either revoke Article 50 altogether, or to ask for an extension from the European Union,” he said.

Varadkar said that if there is an extension, there needs to be a purpose.

“I don’t think anyone would like to see this stalemate or impasse or period of political purgatory continue,” he said.

He said that the fact that the House of Commons hasn’t ratified the deal will be a problem for the British government.

“Part of the case for the United Kingdom would able to strike new trade deals with countries all over the world, but countries all over the world are looking at the United Kingdom and wondering is this a country that’s going to be able to make agreements, ratify them and then stick to them.”

Speaking at the event, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said that the “urgency could not be greater and the stakes could not be higher” in ensuring Ireland was ready to cope with Brexit. 

He also defended his party’s continued support for the confidence and supply agreement keeping the minority Fine Gael government in power, as the threat of Brexit meant stability was needed.

“My party is being criticised on a near daily basis for this decision,” he said. “Certainly the route of all-out opposition is easier.  But when you look at the scale of the Brexit threat I believe we are right to say that our country simply cannot afford the added risk of spending up to four months holding an election and forming a government.  It was the right decision and we stand by it.”

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald took the opportunity of today’s meeting to repeat calls for discussions to be held around a referendum on Irish unity.

She said: “It is time to look beyond Brexit and beyond partition. If the border cannot be mitigated, it must be removed.

“The demand for Irish unity is growing. Ireland north and south is changing. Now is the time to look the future.”

With the pressure still on the UK, it is expected that Prime Minister May will return to the EU for talks within days. 

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha

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Sean Murray

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