Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is “fixated” on the issue of the Irish border post-Brexit and is using it as a tool to “keep Sinn Fein at bay”, a senior DUP figure has suggested.
Sammy Wilson made the claim yesterday after the Irish prime minister said the UK should stay as close as possible to the EU after Brexit in effort to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
But DUP Brexit spokesman Mr Wilson labelled the taoiseach’s remarks “nonsense” and said warnings of a potential hard border were a “total fabrication”.
Theresa May has said Britain will enter negotiations on its future relationship with the EU in “a spirit of co-operation”, after leaders of the remaining 27 member states cleared the way for trade talks to begin.
The EU27 opened the door for trade negotiations by endorsing a deal on Britain’s transition to Brexit and approving guidelines designed to deliver a “balanced, ambitious and wide-ranging” free trade agreement with the UK.
Speaking after yesterday’s decision, Mr Varadkar said: “The UK has decided to leave the EU. The best way we can get a good outcome for Ireland is to make sure that we have an agreement that keeps the UK as close to the EU as possible.
“That is the best way to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and also the best way to protect the enormous trade that occurs between Britain and Ireland, and that is so important for Irish jobs and our economy, and agriculture in particular.”
But DUP MP Mr Wilson told the News Letter: “In my view, Mr Varadkar is fixated with the border for one reason; he wants to take votes off Sinn Fein and will sacrifice his own economy to do it.
“It is just madness. This nonsense about there being a hard border if there is not a close relationship between the UK and Ireland after Brexit is language used by Sinn Fein.
“The taoiseach hopes that by talking Sinn Fein’s language, as the SDLP once tried to do, that he will succeed in stopping some people from voting for Sinn Fein.”
The East Antrim MP also declared that any future relationship between the UK and the Republic “will have to be based on a free trade arrangement that allows EU countries access to our market, and that will have to be reciprocated”.
And he claimed that the taoiseach’s warning of a hard border was “a fabrication to try and scare the UK into staying in the single market and customs union”.
The former finance minister continued: “There are goods from the USA, China and all over the world that flow into the EU through Ireland, and there is no hard border in place to check those goods. So why do we need one for goods coming from the UK when we leave the EU?”
The decision at the European Council summit in Brussels sets the scene for months of intensive and complex talks on trade in goods and services, as well as Britain’s security relationship with the EU after withdrawal.
Confirmation of the transition period stretching from Brexit day in March 2019 to the end of December 2020 will provide “certainty” for businesses and individuals, the prime minister said.
Following Friday’s breakthrough, Mrs May said she felt there was now “a new dynamic” in the negotiations.
But DUP MEP Diane Dodds said Brussels “still has some way to go to demonstrating that it is serious about securing the best possible deal”.
She added: “These guidelines promise a more ambitious approach but only if the UK changes its mind on leaving the single market and customs union. This remains out of step with the stated direction of the Prime Minister and the British people.
“The EU should not limit its ambitions as we enter this critical phase on talks.’’