Brexit: We still don't know what the British government wants, Irish PM Leo Varadkar says


Time is running out for Britain to explain its vision for Brexit to the rest of the world, the Irish Prime Minister has warned, ahead of a meeting with Theresa May on Monday.

Leo Varadkar called for “clarity and urgency” from the UK Government as he revealed that his administration “still don’t what the British government wants Brexit to mean” despite months of negotiations.

Mr Varadkar and Ms May are both travelling to Belfast for discussions focusing on the formation of a power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland. The province has been without a devolved government for months since the last coalition collapsed in acrimony and fresh elections failed to break the deadlock.

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said earlier this year in a meeting with MPs that he believed “one of the conditions” of a smooth Brexit process was the restoration of a government in NI. The DUP, the largest party in Northern Ireland, was widely seen as a block to a realistic solution for the Irish border after Brexit last year – after which the issue was effectively kicked into the long grass to be dealt with later. 

Matters are also complicated on the Conservatives’ reliance on DUP votes for a majority in the House of Commons, meaning it is likely they could effectively any deal they did not like.

Mr Varadkar told Irish public broadcaster RTE: “Time is running out, it is 20 months since [the Brexit] referendum, and we still don’t know what the British government wants Brexit to mean.

“The UK is due to leave the EU in March 2019. It’s a little over a year away and I think we need clarity and urgency from London.”

The Taoiseach’s warning echoes concerns voiced by other senior European politicians about the clarity of the UK’s position. Last week Manfred Weber, a senior ally of Angel Merkel who leads the largest group of MEPs in the European Parliament, the UK needed “to come out with concrete proposals very soon” and that Ms May’s government had provided “no clarification” and left the EU with “no idea” about its vision.

Mr Barnier also said last week it was time for the UK to “make a choice”.

The British public also echoed the concerns on a poll by BMG for The Independent released on Sunday. 74 per cent of the public said Ms May’s plans for Brexit were unclear, compared to just 17 per cent who said they were clear. A further 9 per cent said they did not know whether the plans were clear or unclear.

The delay continues as Downing Street admitted last week that the Cabinet did not discuss Brexit during its weekly meeting, amid divisions in the Conservative party about exactly how hard Brexit should be. The PM ruled out membership of the customs union and single market at the start of the process but the red lines have severely limited the UK’s options in its future relationship.

Brussels has given the UK until the next European Council meeting in March to clarify what sort of trading relationship it wants. The return of intensive talks in Brussels last week failed to bear fruit, and relations between Britain and the European Commission negotiators sank to a new low on Friday amid a row about cancelled meetings.

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