Irish concerns over Brexit to come first: Donald Tusk

Sheetal Sukhija - Friday 9th March, 2018

DUBLIN, Ireland - In a meeting with the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin, the European Council President Donald Tusk vowed that in the EU-UK negotiations, Ireland's concerns over Brexit will come first.

Tusk, who was meeting Varadkar in the Irish capital, ahead of a crucial EU summit in Brussels on March 22, stressed, “As long as the UK doesn’t present such a solution, it is very difficult to imagine substantive progress in Brexit negotiations. If in London someone assumes that the negotiations will deal with other issues first, before moving to the Irish issue, my response would be: Ireland first.”

Tusk also spoke about the failure so far from the U.K. to come up with a plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland, or create a “solution” to Brexit.

He pointed out that this aspect was hampering progress and told reporters after his meeting, "As long as the U.K. doesn't present such a solution, it is very difficult to imagine substantive progress in Brexit negotiations.”

The Taoiseach meanwhile said that he is seeking "certainty" from London regarding how it plans to protect the border and how it sees its future relationship with Brussels.

Varadkar said, if the U.K. doesn’t come up with workable, practical plans in solving the border issue, then the backstop agreement from December should apply - which would require Northern Ireland to maintain regulatory alignment in compliance with the Single Market, while keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union.

Varadkar said, “We must have certainty that if a better option proves unachievable the backstop of maintaining full alignment in Northern Ireland - with those rules of the single market and the customs union - will apply in order to protect North South cooperation and avoid a hard border.”

Meanwhile, the former Polish Prime Minister added that the EU respects the result of the Brexit referendum and therefore, the British should similarly respect the Irish vote for the Good Friday Agreement.

He said, “We must recognise the democratic decision taken by Britain to leave the EU in 2016, just as we must recognise the democratic decision made on the island of Ireland in 1998 with all its consequences. The risk of destabilising the fragile peace process must be avoided at all costs. So we will be firm on this.”

Tusk’s meeting with Varadkar comes after the European Council published draft negotiating guidelines for Brexit earlier this week. 

Tusk said that all EU members are showing solidarity with Ireland during the Brexit process, adding, “In times of trouble, families come together and stand with each other. For the EU27, this is especially true when we talk about Brexit.”