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Leo Varadkar claims UK-Ireland trade deal will be 'difficult' under Boris Johnson
20 December 2019, 21:04
Leo Varadkar has said a trade deal between the UK and Ireland has been made more difficult because Boris Johnson is "fixed on a harder Brexit."
The Irish Premier told reporters in Dublin that his main priority for the New Year will be ensuring the Republic of Ireland survives the UK's exit from the EU.
His announcement comes as MPs agreed to pass the UK Prime Minister's Withdrawal Agreement Bill in the Commons on Friday, meaning Britain is a step closer to leaving on 31 January 2020.
Mr Varadkar says the negotiated deal gives his country vital guarantees, such as preventing a hard border with Northern Ireland, however trade relations remain uncertain.
"What is still, of course, wide open, is what will happen on trade, when it comes to the future trading relationship between the EU and Ireland," he said.
"This is existential for our economy, because so much of our economy is dependent on trade, particularly the agri-food sector but also the manufacturing sector as well.
The Irish leader said it would be "difficult to secure a good trade deal for Ireland" because of Boris Johnson's fixation "on a harder Brexit" than anticipated under his predecessor Theresa May.
He continued: "You'll see what's happening in Westminster at the moment, where the guarantees on workers rights, for example, are being deleted from the agreement, and that's a real concern for us.
"While we want free trade and unfettered access to the British market, we do want there to be a level playing field."
Mr Varadkar warned that British standards on financial goods, products and health and safety could undermine the EU's guidelines on goods as a whole.
He said he would not "want to trade with a Britain that undercuts us."
"The whole point of the European Union has been to have convergence and fair competition, more competition, but also people converging upwards in terms of labour rights and standards, environmental standards, over the years," Mr Varadkar added.
"The British Government have to work very hard to maintain the unity of European 27 to make sure that we have a level playing field on the common core standards."
The Irish Premier expressed his concern about Brexit, despite the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement.
"The harder approach being taken by Prime Minister Johnson is a risk to us and that is evident," he said.
"At the same time, what he has said is that he wants to have exactly what we want, which is quota-free, tariff-free access to each other's markets with the minimum amount of bureaucracy and checks.
"What he has said is that he doesn't want there to be alignment. However there are different ways of achieving things than alignment.
"There is also equivalence and there is also the possibility of a common minimum floor of standards. That is the kind of thing that we are going to have to work on.
"It is going to be a tall order to get that agreed and ratified by the end of 2020."