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'Major issues remain': EU and Irish government studying Boris Johnson's Brexit plan

The DUP targeted Leo Varadkar’s response to the proposal.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was in Sweden today.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was in Sweden today.
Image: Jason DeCrow/AP/Press Association Images

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR spoke to the Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk this afternoon after a day of speculation over whether the EU would accept the Brexit plan proposed by the UK. 

It was a turbulent day for north-south relations too, as senior Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) politicians took aim at Varadkar for the government’s lukewarm response to the plan.

Varadkar, who is in Stockholm today for a meeting with the Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven, had phone calls with both Juncker, the president of the European Commission, as well as Tusk, the president of the European Council, to discuss the UK’s proposals. 

The taoiseach said that he “welcomed” the proposals as the “basis for further discussion, but that “major issues remain with the UK’s proposals”.

A spokesperson for Varadkar said that he also assured the EU of Ireland’s commitment to protecting the single market, customs union and the Good Friday Agreement. 

“I am reassured by what Prime Minister Johnson said today: that he is not proposing that there should be any new physical infrastructure on the island of Ireland linked to customs or customs checks – but that is actually in contradiction to the papers presented by the UK government yesterday,” Varadkar told reporters in Sweden. 

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has said that he wants to get an agreement in place by the EU summit on 17 October, paving the way for Britain to leave the bloc with a deal at the end of the month.

However, European leaders have reacted coolly to the plan. Some politicians have suggested Johnson deliberately put forward a deal he knows the EU will reject.  

The DUP has faced significant scrutiny in the last 24 hours, after leader Arlene Foster announced that she would be backing Johnson’s plan – despite previously making the issue of regulatory alignment a “red line”. 

Foster took aim at the Irish government today for its response to the proposal, which was published yesterday

“The Irish government’s majoritarian desire to ride roughshod over unionism was one of the reasons why the withdrawal agreement was rejected,” she said.

She criticised what she called the government’s “preparedness to dump the consent principle for their country’s expediency is foolish in the extreme and sends a very clear message to unionists”. 

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds also targeted Varadkar: 

Our message to Leo is simple.  He should reflect on his comments and his intransigent approach.  He is destined to go down in history as the Taoiseach who restored a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland because his friends in Brussels will insist on it.

The next few days will be crucial, as the EU studies Johnson’s proposals to see if some kind of agreement can be reached. 

However, Johnson’s plan has received a frosty reception among UK political parties, as well as in Brussels, raising fears of a no-deal Brexit. 

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Former taoiseach Enda Kenny told RTÉ this evening that he was sure that the British government wouldn’t want to breach the Good Friday Agreement. 

Kenny, who was taoiseach during the Brexit referendum in 2016, said that he “hoped that a practical arrangement can be worked out”. 

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