NIO minister Conor Burns insists ‘Dublin are our closest partners in Europe’ despite Varadkar comments that he had ‘never seen relations as bad’ with UK ministers

A Conservative MP has insisted “Dublin are our closest partners in Europe” despite comments from Ireland’s deputy leader that relations have never been so bad with UK Government ministers.

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said that in his political lifetime, he had “never seen relations as bad” with UK ministers.

Asked about the comments, Northern Ireland Office minister Conor Burns told reporters: “We want to engage with Dublin, we want to engage with the EU. We’re very clear that we want a negotiated solution to the protocol.

“But in the absence of a wider mandate, from vice president Sefcovic (European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic) we have really little alternative other than to pursue that legislative route that we’re doing now.

Minister of State for Northern Ireland Conor Burns told reporters today that 'Dublin are our closest partners in Europe'

“I don’t believe in conducting these sort of discussions on the airwaves. But Dublin are our closest partners in Europe. We share so many things in common, we have so many interests and challenges that we face together and we want to face those in friendship and in partnership.”

Meanwhile, a DUP MP said he is yet to see Ireland’s deputy leader engage in Brexit discussions “in a way that is anything less than partisan”.

Gavin Robinson was speaking after Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said he thinks the UK is “not being even-handed” when it comes to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Robinson said: “He could have stepped back. He could have recognised that there is a problem with the protocol, that there are issues that need to be ironed out and he could put his shoulder to the wheel to provide that solution for everyone in Northern Ireland.

“He chose not to do so. He did so in a way that would lead someone like me to say people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones because I’ve yet to see Leo Varadkar engage in a discussion around the European Union, around Brexit or around the protocol in a way that is anything less than partisan.”