LATEST: Theresa May confirms border will have 'no physical infrastructure'

UPDATE 4.30pm: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has strongly welcomed confirmation from British Prime Minister that she will not accept any physical infrastructure at the Irish border, writes Daniel McConnell

Speaking in Downing Street following a bilateral meeting with Theresa May, Mr Varadkar said, however, the British Government still needs to deliver more clarity on how it sees Brexit working.

“Well certainly I did, and I have always encouraged the British Government to be more specific about the future relationship between Britain and Ireland and between the UK and the EU,” he said.

Welcoming her comments on the border, Mr Varadkar said she has gone further than before on not wanting any physical barriers returning between North and South.

“One thing which was included in her speech was the fact Britain will not seek any physical infrastructure on the border.

To me that is very important, that is more than saying you don't want the borders of the past. So in my view, that is a very strong statement,” he said.

These comments were confirmed in a statement released by Downing Street a short time after the meeting.

During the meeting, the Prime Minister thanked the Taoiseach for his welcome of her Florence speech and they discussed the period of implementation which would enable people and businesses – both in the UK and in the EU – to adjust to the new arrangements in a smooth and orderly way.

Mr Varadkar did offer his view that the border would not be necessary if Britain and Northern Ireland remained in the customs union.

“Of course I pointed out that the best way to achieve that is for the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland to stay in some form of a customs union and some form of a single market,” Mr Varadkar said.

He added that it was certainly the view of the Prime Minister is that it is best to explore these issues if we are able to move into phase 2 of these talks.

“But that is a decision we will make collectively as the 27 member states and I will have the first opportunity to discuss this matter with my colleagues on Thursday,” Mr Varadkar said.

Asked about the ongoing deadlock in the North, Mr Varadkar made it clear he does not favour any move back to direct rule from Westminster.

“We obviously discussed the fact that there are ongoing talks. Both of us are of the view that the DUP and Sinn Fein come together and form an agreement to allow the institutions get back up and running,” he said.

“In the past, that has required external interventions, from the Governments or outside, but at this stage, the most important thing is that Sinn Fein and DUP come together to give Northern Ireland a unique voice when it comes to Brexit, which I think is very important. Neither of us are contemplating another election in Northern Ireland as a solution. It is the very strong view of the Irish Government that there should not be a return to direct rule,” he added.

Earlier, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the UK "needs to bring a plan" to the table for Brexit.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said Mrs May did provide some welcome detail in her speech in Florence

UPDATE 3.15pm: Brexit divorce talks have so far made insufficient progress to allow starting negotiations on a post-withdrawal trade deal, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said after meeting Theresa May in Downing Street.

But Mr Varadkar stressed that there was still time for the situation to be resolved before the 27 remaining EU members make a decision on the matter in October.

He said: "I don't think, at this stage, it would be possible to say that sufficient progress has yet been made, but it may well be possible by the end of October when we meet in Brussels."

Mr Varadkar said that the decision would be shaped by the views of chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier.

"Certainly, we will be very much guided by the report that Michel Barnier will make to the prime ministers and also the report that the European Parliament will make."

Mr Varadkar also urged the Government to be "more specific" about the future relationship between the UK and Ireland after Brexit.

Following a working lunch in No 10, Mr Varadkar said the Prime Minister's decision to rule out a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland was "very important".

Mr Varadkar, who is the first EU leader to visit the PM since her keynote address in Florence last week in which she set out her hopes for a post-Brexit relationship with Brussels, also urged the DUP and Sinn Fein to find a solution to the deadlock over powersharing.

"I have always encouraged the British Government to be more specific about how they see the future relationship between Britain and Ireland and between the United Kingdom and the European Union," he said.

Earlier: Brexit and getting the power-sharing Assembly back in action at Stormont dominated talks as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Theresa May met at Downing Street today.

Mr Varadkar is the first EU leader to visit the PM since her keynote address in Florence last week in which she set out her hopes for a post-Brexit relationship with Brussels.

Mrs May said: "There are some key issues for us at the moment. I'm sure we'll be discussing the issue of how we can ensure the devolved administration is restored in Northern Ireland.

"And also, of course, the particular issues around Brexit. I think that with positive working together we will find a solution that delivers what we both want, which is no return to a hard border, no return to the borders of the past."

Mr Varadkar said the two leaders were in a "shared space" on trying to get the Northern Ireland Executive up and running again.

He said Dublin wanted to make sure that the close relationship built up between the two countries in recent years is maintained after Brexit, as well as the Common Travel Area.

Mr Varadkar said he hoped to keep free trade between the two countries "because we share the view that free trade makes everyone better off".


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