Varadkar: UK will face 'losses' when it leaves EU

Update 3.32pm: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that Britain will face "losses" when it exits the European Union as an historic deal was agreed for Brexit, writes Political Correspondant Juno McEnroe in Brussels.

EU leaders meeting in Brussels today agreed guidelines for phase II of Britain's exit, including a special clause which prevents Britain backsliding on a deal for a frictionless border in the North.

Britain will have two years to exit the European Union, but this period could be extended.

Under the guidelines, it will have to comply with all EU laws during that period and talks on a new trade deal with the bloc will only begin in earnest in March, it was confirmed.

Mr Varadkar, speaking to reporters after the summit, made it clear that Britain will suffer "losses" as he put it. Britain could also not expect to have the benefits of a status quo relationship in trading down the line but still leave the EU, he added.

But earlier he also admitted there are diverse views among member states on the future relationship and trading arrangements that the union could have with Britain.

While Ireland wants this to remain the same as much as possible, Mr Varadkar admitted it was difficult to see how that "circle could be squared", if Britain wanted the North to keep its existing EU relationship on trade and borders but it also wanted to leave the union.

Mr Varadkar also confirmed that special protections for the North, including a promise of no hard border, would be "stitched into" the final withdrawal deal for Britain.

Each parliament, including the Dáil, will vote on the final deal. This could be a "challenge", said Mr Varadkar, as there were diverse views on Brexit among member states.

Under the guidelines agreed in Brussels today, Britain cannot renege on its promise to allow the North retain its existing open border and alignments with the South as well as with mainland Britain.

The deal says:

"It [the EU] underlines that negotiations in the second phase can only progress as long as all commitments undertaken during the first phase are respected in full and translated faithfully into legal terms as quickly as possible."

Update 3.05pm: The Taoiseach has said there is great unity between the 27 EU member states on Brexit.

Leo Varadkar thanked his fellow heads of state for their support at the Council Summit in Brussels at which they decided to move into phase two of talks.

It comes after they decided that sufficient progress had been made in the first phase, including on the Irish border.

Mr Varadkar said that unity will continue during the second phase.

"Notwithstanding the fact that the United Kingdom is a major economic power, a major military power - because we're a member state we got enormous support and solidarity from all of the other European countries and European institutions," he said.

"Many of the people around the table made the point that the reason why the European Union got a good outcome in the talks so far is because of European unity - and we now need to maintain that European unity.

Earlier: Taoiseach: A lot of thinking needs to be done about EU and UK's post-Brexit relationship

Leo Varadkar has warned that a lot of thinking remains over the shape of a post-Brexit relationship between the UK and the EU.

The Taoiseach said opinions on what future relations should look like are diverse and that not everyone agrees with Ireland's desire for little change.

Mr Varadkar was speaking in Brussels as he joined the other 27 EU leaders for day two of the European Summit, where they are expected to formally agree to start the next phase of Brexit negotiations.

"We will be talking about the transition period and the relationship that will exist between the EU and the UK," Mr Varadkar told reporters.

"I think a lot of thinking needs to be done about that. There does seem to be quite diverse opinions as to what that should look like.

"From the Irish point of view, we would like it to look as much like the current relationship as possible but that wouldn't necessarily be the view of everyone," he added.

The Taoiseach said he and UK Prime Minister Theresa May had a brief conversation at the margins of a meeting on Thursday night about trade talks and the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive.

"We agreed we would talk in New Year, both about another attempt to get the Northern Ireland Executive up and running and Phase 2 talks.

"I expressed my wish that we should proceed quickly to start talking about issues around trade in particular and she agreed with that," he added.


 

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