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Brexit withdrawal agreement would not have been reached without help from Ireland, says Barnier

Michel Barnier met with Varadkar and Helen McEntee this morning in government buildings.

Leo Varadkar and Michel Barnier this morning.
Leo Varadkar and Michel Barnier this morning.
Image: PA

THE BREXIT WITHDRAWAL agreement would not have been reached without the “hard work, passions and unity” of Irish politicians and people, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator said today. 

Michel Barnier met with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for European Affairs Helen McEntee in government buildings this morning.

Barnier thanked politicians and civil servants for their work, days ahead the UK formally leaving the EU on Friday. 

“And I wanted to make one point about this today. It certainly wouldn’t have been possible to reach this [withdrawal] agreement without the hard work, passions and unity of everybody here in Ireland,” Barnier said in Dublin today. 

“And I want to thank you, Leo [Varadkar], for the leadership, for the courage you have shown throughout this negotiation, in particular in the last few months at the end of last year.

What Brexit really showed that for us in Europe it doesn’t matter whether you are big or small. We are all part of a family.

Varadkar said it was important that the remaining member states continue to be united as “Team 27” in the next phase of negotiations with the UK.

“On Friday, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, we’ll say goodbye to an old friend embarking on an adventure,” he said.

“We hope it works out for them. But if it does not, there will always be a seat kept for them at the table.”

Varadkar said he was “ambitious” about the future EU/UK relationship but warned there was also a need for “realism”.

“We need to start a new relationship between the EU and the UK on a firm and honest footing,” he said.

“And that means a level playing field. This is very much in Ireland’s interests, as well as that of the European Union as a whole.”

The Taoiseach highlighted that the Withdrawal Agreement had ensured there was no hard border, free movement on the island of Ireland had been maintained and citizens’ rights protected.

He said achieving a trade deal by the end of 2020 would be “very challenging”.

Barnier said the EU is not ready to ask for concessions nor ready to give concessions.

“The UK is leaving. It is their choice, it is not our choice. We have to first of all organise this orderly Brexit,” he added.

He added that if no agreement is reached by the end of the year it “cannot be business as usual”.

“We are to face a risk of a cliff edge, in particular for trade,” he added.

‘Brexit is not going to go away’

Varadkar said the second phase of negotiations will be different as “there isn’t a separate objective related to Ireland.”

“But I think our influence will remain strong, relationships have been built up over the past two or three years.” 

Barnier said he would present a draft negotiating mandate to the EU member states next Monday.

“Brexit is not going to go away,” he said.

“We have some important work ahead of us. The protocol of Ireland/Northern Ireland now needs to be implemented in all its dimensions – we will watch over its implementation very closely.

Barnier said a possible change in government after the general election in two weeks’ time would not impact his working relationship with Ireland.  

The negotiator will be travelling to Belfast later today to meet with Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and the DUP’s Diane Dodds.

He will then go on to take part in a lecture at Queen’s University.

 With reporting by Orla Dwyer. 

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