UK’s Brexit trade stance leaves Irish PM confused and puzzled

TORONT • Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he remains “confused and puzzled” about the UK’s global trading plans after Brexit, as the clock ticks down in talks on the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU).

The UK government seems to be suggesting it wants all the advantages of being in the EU, but none of the responsibilities and costs, Varadkar said in an interview on Monday with Bloomberg Television in Toronto.

“That’s not a realistic position,” Varadkar said in the interview. “What trade agreement does the UK want with the EU? At the moment, they have the best trade deal imaginable. What are these better deals the UK really wants from Europe and other countries? Some more clarity would be helpful.”

Varadkar repeated he wants no border on the island of Ireland after Brexit. Checks along the 500km (310-mile) crossing to Northern Ireland largely melted away after a peace agreement in the 1990s, and the Irish government is demanding the frontier remains open after Brexit. The bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier maintains customs controls are part of EU border management, and French farmers are already objecting to an open border because of worries that cheaper non-European imports will enter the EU via the UK.

Varadkar was due to make  a visit yesterday to the US-Canada border, which had been cited by some Brexit supporters as a “seamless and frictionless” border and possible model for the Irish frontier.

“I’m a little bit skeptical,” he said.“But I’d like to see it with my own eyes.”

The border is one of three key issues, along with citizens’ rights and money owed by the UK, that require “sufficient progress” toward a resolution during the Brexit negotiations before the EU will allow talks to move on to Britain’s future relationship with the bloc.

Varadkar said that there had been some progress on the Irish border issue, but more needed to be done in all three areas before talks moved to a wider basis.

“We’re not satisfied with the progress that has been made so far,” Varadkar said. “We hope more progress can be made, but to date progress has not been sufficient.”

Varadkar still hopes to meet with US President Donald Trump next March in Washington, saying links between the two countries are bigger than any prime minister or president.

“It’s fair to say that the  policy and character of my government would be, or the government which I lead, would be very different to that of President Trump,” said Varadkar, 38, who was elected prime minister by the ruling Fine Gael party in June after former leader Enda Kenny stepped down. Varadkar is on a four-day trip to Canada and met Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Montreal on Sunday after the two leaders marched together in a Pride Parade. —Bloomberg