Irish PM says no sign of Britain backtracking on border deal

A breakthrough on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland allowed negotiators to strike a deal in December that paved the way for talks on future trade ties.

FILE: The Irish flag. Picture:

DAVOS - There has been no sign that Britain intends to backtrack on the commitments it made in December on the Irish border and doing so would erode trust for the rest of the Brexit negotiations, Ireland’s Prime Minister said on Thursday.

A breakthrough on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which will be the United Kingdom’s (UK) only land frontier with the European Union (EU) after its departure, allowed negotiators to strike a deal in December that paved the way for talks on future trade ties.

In it, Britain pledged that if it cannot strike the kind of free trade deal it wishes, Northern Ireland would remain aligned with the rules of the EU’s single market and customs union, both of which London is officially committed to leaving.

Some EU officials say it remains unclear how Britain can fully meet the three key pledges it made in those circumstances: keeping Northern Irish rules in line with the EU, keeping Northern Ireland aligned with the UK mainland and allowing the UK to diverge from EU regulations.

“I haven’t seen any evidence of that yet,” Leo Varadkar, attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, told Reuters when asked if he was at all wary that Britain might backtrack on some of its commitments.

“I don’t think the United Kingdom will depart from that and if they try to, it would send a very bad message in general as well, that if you agree something in December and try to move away from it in February, it’s very hard to trust that person, so I‘m sure they wouldn’t do that,” he said.

Varadkar acknowledged that it will be difficult to give effect to the border agreement but that the easiest way to do so would be for Britain and the EU to have a future relationship not very far from the current arrangement.

Comments by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Davos that Britain could have as close a relationship as it wanted were both very reassuring and very significant, Varadkar said.

Such an outcome would also mean Ireland would not have to ask the EU for specific assistance in dealing with the economic fallout from Brexit, he added. Varadkar and his predecessor Enda Kenny had said previously a request for aid was likely.

After the United States Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s welcoming of a weaker dollar on Wednesday took centre stage on world markets, Varadkar said concerns around the Swiss Alps resort of a currency war had been excessively heightened and was unlikely to transpire.

“I would ask the question to anyone who is considering a trade war or a currency war - who’s ever won one? All that happens when you go down that road in terms of policy is that everyone ends up worse off,” he said.