EU is 'confused and puzzled' about UK's post-Brexit trade plans, says Irish PM

Leo Varadkar criticises 'unrealistic' British demands and says more progress must be made in the next two months

Benjamin Kentish
Tuesday 22 August 2017 16:36 BST
Leo Varadkar said more 'clarity' was needed over the UK's position
Leo Varadkar said more 'clarity' was needed over the UK's position (AFP)

The European Union (EU) is “confused and puzzled” about Britain’s post-Brexit trade plans, Ireland’s Taoiseach or prime minister said, as he accused the UK Government of having “unrealistic” demands.

Leo Varadkar, who took office in June, was speaking during a trip to Canada where he met with the country's prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and visited the country’s border with the US as part of a fact-finding mission to look at options for the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit.

“I think I’d be right to say on behalf of the European governments that we’re not satisfied with the progress that has been made so far,” he told Bloomberg. “However, we’ll continue with the talks.

“We hope that more progress can be made and that that progress will be sufficient when we meet in October to allow the talks to continue to the next phase, but to date the progress has not been sufficient.”

The Irish leader also called on the UK Government to clarify what kind of trade deal it hopes to reach with the EU and said the lack of clarity was delaying talks.

“Where we’re confused and puzzled is...on what trade agreement the United Kingdom wants with the European Union,” he said.

“At the moment they have the best trade deal possible – the best one imaginable – which is a customs union and access to the European Single Market and the European Economic Area.

“What they seem to have been suggesting for the last 14 months is that they want to have all the advantages of being in the EU but none of the responsibilities and costs. That’s not a realistic position, so we’re waiting to see what they would like to see.”

He added: “It’s not clear to us what the deals are that the British Government really wants from Europe and from other countries, and I think some more clarity in that area would be very helpful.”

Mr Varadkhar said EU states were also “keen to know what will happen” to EU citizens who want to move to live with relatives in the UK. The British Government has refused to give concrete guarantees about the rights of EU citizens.

Another sticking point during talks has been the size of the Brexit bill that Britain will pay when it leaves the EU.

“There’s no agreement yet on the amount of money that Britain will be paying,” Mr Varadkar said. “It does have outstanding legal obligations, for example pensions paid to European civil servants, many of whom are British.”

Despite the delays, he said he was “satisfied” with proposals to allow British and Irish citizens to move freely between the two countries after Brexit and “reassured” by the UK’s commitment to the peace process in Northern Ireland.

There must not be a trade border introduced on the island, he added.

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