Ireland ready to “go the extra mile” to find protocol fixes, Varadkar says
The Irish government is ready to “go the extra mile” to find fixes to the Northern Ireland protocol, said Leo Varadkar.
However, the Irish Deputy Prime Minister has ruled out abandoning it altogether, saying all “realistic alternatives” have been rejected by unionism.
Mr Varadkar said he was ready to engage with the next DUP leader to find solutions, but criticized the party’s reluctance to compromise.
Problem is, there are people who can only say noLeon Varadkar
He said: “We are ready to engage across the European Union, with the UK government, in consultation with all parties in Northern Ireland.
“We are prepared to go the extra mile to provide any kind of practical fixes we can within the terms of the agreement.”
But he added: “The protocol remains, unless someone can come up with an alternative which means that somehow you can protect the single market.”
Mr Varadkar said alternatives such as the backstop and keeping the UK in the single market and customs union had been rejected by “people who can only say no”.
He said it was DUP policy to remain in the customs union “until they are captured by the ERG”.
The European research group, a collection of Conservative MPs backing Brexit, became close allies of the DUP when it held the balance of power in Westminster and pushed for a no-deal exit from the EU.
Mr Varadkar added: “The safety net, the single customs territory, all of that was rejected.
“We said yes to everyone.
“We were always the ones who said yes.
“The problem is, there are people who can only say no.”
Mr Varadkar also said he accepted criticism of comments he made on a united Ireland at Fine Gael Ard Fheis during the week.
He has been criticized for the timing of his speech, which discussed reunification during his lifetime, at a time when Northern Ireland’s institutions were under threat amid unrest within the DUP.
But the head of Fine Gael said there will always be people who don’t want to talk about the island’s future.
He said: “I understand the criticisms and am ready to heed them.
“But it’s also the fact that there are people in this state who will always be uncomfortable talking about unification.
“It will always be the wrong time.
“It was not the right time during the three years of Brexit because of these sensitive negotiations.
“It wasn’t a good time this week due to the difficulties faced by the DUP.
“It won’t be the right time for the next few months due to the Protocol negotiations and the marching season.
There is no longer a majority in Northern Ireland, either for unionism or for nationalism, and more and more people want to talk about itLeon Varadkar
“It won’t be a good time next year because we are preparing for the Assembly elections, and it will be a bad time after that.
“So for people who are uncomfortable, including some members of my own party, who talk about unification, they will always be uncomfortable.
“But this conversation has already taken place.
“There is no longer a majority in Northern Ireland, either for unionism or for nationalism, and more and more people want to talk about it.
“Young people in particular, and we want to talk to them. “
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