Leo Varadkar ‘intransigent’ in breaching Belfast Agreement for his preferred status for NI, says UUP

The Irish Prime Minister is breaking the Belfast Agreement requirement for unionist consent by insisting on a border between NI and GB in the Irish Sea, UUP leader Robin Swann has said.

Mr Swann said today that the EU should give Prime Minister Theresa May the flexibility she is requesting in Brexit talks - and that undermining the Belfast Agreement to facilitate the preferred Irish ‘backstop’ proposal is not a sensible way forward.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar debating the future of Europe with MEPs at the European Parliament. Photo: Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar debating the future of Europe with MEPs at the European Parliament. Photo: Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

Dublin is pressing for EU customs checks to treat the island of Ireland has a single unit, whereas unionists would prefer a “frictionless” soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland which makes no distintion between the Province and the rest of the UK.

But Mr Swann said he “continue[s] to be disappointed by the intransigent language of Leo Varadkar and the Irish Government” over the issue.

“If they continue to hold to the position that it’s either a border in the Irish Sea or no deal, it is likely to have dire consequences on both sides of the border in terms of both economies and relationships across these islands,” he said.

“When I wrote to the Taoiseach earlier this year challenging the position which his government was taking, he responded to me saying that the Irish Government would ‘uphold and protect the letter and spirit of that Agreement’. Unfortunately, there has been little sign of that so far as he continues to push a backstop proposal which has no regard for the Belfast Agreement and the principle of consent.

“I would respectfully ask the Taoiseach, along with his EU colleagues, to use the coming weeks as a window of opportunity to reflect on what they are doing and engage in negotiations which are injected with a dose of realism. Breaking the Belfast Agreement to facilitate the backstop proposal is definitely not a sensible way forward.”

Mr Swann affirmed Theresa May’s actions in asking for more time to effect Brexit.

“The Prime Minister was absolutely right to hold her ground and not allow the UK Government to be bounced into doing a bad deal which would threaten the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom,” he said.

“There is now a window of opportunity for everyone to take stock and for the EU to go back to the drawing board. Theresa May has asked the EU for flexibility and they should give her that. It is in everyone’s interests to get a sensible deal that respects the result of the referendum, that doesn’t undermine the Belfast Agreement and maintains a frictionless border with the Republic of Ireland.”

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