UK should have produced proper Brexit plan two years ago, Irish PM tells Theresa May

Britain needs to understand it isn't an equal of the EU, says Leo Varadkar

Jon Stone
Thursday 28 June 2018 15:44
Leo Varadkar criticises government for not planning for Brexit before EU referendum

Ireland’s prime minister has blasted the UK government’s preparedness for Brexit and said Britain should have come up with a proper plan for leaving two years ago.

Arriving in Brussels for a summit Leo Varadkar said Ireland and other EU countries would start preparations for the possibility of a ‘no deal’ and that the UK needed to come to terms with the fact it was not an equal partner in negotiations.

Theresa May is expected to update her 27 EU counterparts over dinner on Thursday night and explain what she is doing to come up with a plan for the Irish border and future relationship with the EU.

She insisted a full plan would be drawn up next month after a special away-day meeting of her Cabinet in Chequers. The PM hopes to break a deadlock between her ministers, who have been unable to agree on a workable policy a year and a half after triggering Article 50.

Mr Varadkar told reporters on the doorstep of the European Council building: “I think it would have been helpful if they had had that white paper two years ago.

“You would have thought that before people voted to leave the European Union they would have an idea what the new relationship would look like but I appreciate that that hasn’t happened, and two years later it still hasn’t happened.”

He added that he looked forward to seeing the plan when it was produced, but suggested that Britain did not understand that is was not an equal partner with the EU.

You would have thought that before people voted to leave the European Union they would have an idea what the new relationship would look like

Leo Varadkar, Irish PM

“It needs to understand that we’re a union of 27 member states, 500 million people. We have laws and rules and principles and they can’t be changed for any one country, even a great country like Britain,” he said.

“Any relationship that exists in the future between the EU and the UK isn’t going to be one of absolute equals: we’re 27 member states, the UK is one country, we’re 500 million people, the UK is 60 million. That basic fact has to be realised.”

The Taoiseach said he would not accept a land border with the UK, but said to be “responsible” Ireland and other countries would have to make preparations at ports and airports for the possibility of a no deal Brexit.


Addressing the chaos in Theresa May’s cabinet, Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, told reporters in Brussels: “I do understand it’s difficult to come to agreements within her Cabinet and the UK parliament, but she has to. Everything I will do to support her to do that I will do.

“I don’t want to talk in apocalyptic terms. What I want to say is that I believe that the first, second, and third priority now is to solve the issue of the Irish border. When that is solved then so many other issues will be easier to discuss.”

Ms May is still locked in negotiations with her own Cabinet about the so-called “backstop” arrangement, and talks on the future relationship between the UK and EU have yet to progress past the very early stages. The EU says a deal needs to be done before October in order to give time for any agreement to be ratified.

The UK has flat-out rejected EU plans to give a special status to Northern Ireland that would effectively keep it in the customs union and single market, and says any deal must apply to the whole UK and be time-limited. The EU says UK plans so far are not enough to actually prevent a hard border from happening.

Theresa May said she would be “setting out our position for the future and what I want to be able to do” to leaders. She is missing England play Belgium in the World Cup for the dinner; Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel presented her with a football shirt bearing the name of the Belgian player "Hazard".

“I look forward to talking with fellow leaders about the very good progress we’ve made on the withdrawal agreement and looking forward to securing our strong future partnership which I believe is in the interests of both the European Union and the United Kingdom,” she said.

“I think both sides are keen to continue that work at a faster pace than we have done until now and certainly we would welcome this.”

At the summit EU leaders are expected to grapple with the political migration crisis that is destabilising Germany’s coalition government and which helped bring far-right parties to power in Italy and Austria.

They will also discuss Donald Trump’s new protectionist America First trade doctrine, after Council president Donald Tusk warned they had to prepare for “worse case scenarios” with the US president in charge. Senior EU officials say they believe Mr Trump is “dangerous” for Europe.

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