Irish taoiseach: Brexit is ‘challenge of our generation’

Leo Varadkar to use keynote speech in Belfast to say Britains exit from EU will affect all aspects of life in Northern Ireland

The Irish taoiseach is to warn that every aspect of life in Northern Ireland could be affected by Brexit.

In his first visit to Northern Ireland since taking over as Irelands prime minister, Leo Varadkar is due to make a keynote speech at Queens University in Belfast.

He will meet representatives of the regions political parties, which are struggling to reach an agreement to restore the powersharing institutions at Stormont.

Brexit is expected to be one of the main issues on the agenda at the party talks.

Varadkar, who has been vocal in his views against a post-Brexit Irish border, will warn in his university speech that every aspect of life in Northern Ireland could be affected by the outcome of the UK leaving the European Union.

The challenge of our generation is Brexit, he will say. The Brexit negotiations are well under way in Brussels. And, to quote Michel Barnier, the clock is ticking.

Every single aspect of life in Northern Ireland could be affected by the outcome jobs and the economy, the border, citizens rights, cross-border workers, travel, trade, agriculture, energy, fisheries, aviation, EU funding, tourism, public services, the list goes on.

In October, the taoiseach will meet with the European council to discuss whether sufficient progress has been made on key issues to allow the Brexit negotiations to proceed to the next phase.

The three key issues are citizens rights, the financial settlement and issues relating to Ireland. It is my fervent hope that progress will have been made, but I do not underestimate the challenges we face, Varadkar will say.

For our part, the Irish government will discharge our responsibilities as co-guarantors of the Good Friday agreement. We will do all we can, in Brussels, in London and in Dublin, to achieve the best outcome for everyone on this island to protect our peace, our freedom, our rights, and our prosperity, he will add in his speech.

Varadkar will also stress the importance of hearing the voice of Northern Irelands elected representatives on Brexit and encourage parties to work to restore the executive.

We need the executive, the assembly, the north south ministerial council and the British Irish council up and running and acting in the interests of our peoples. We need that more than ever, and we need it now, the taoiseach will add.

Ahead of the speech, Daniel Mulhall, the outgoing Irish ambassador to the UK, outlined Irelands hopes for the UK to remain in the EU customs union, which allow goods to pass through the area without customs duties being levied.

He told BBC Radio 4s Today programme: Ideally, we would like to see the UK remain in the customs union. That would solve many of the problems that arise.

Mulhall said 1bn a week in trade passes back and forth across the Irish sea.

Ideally we would wish Britain to remain in the EU, thats not going to happen, wed like Britain to remain in single market, that may not happen, he went on.

But we think putting forward our view that remaining in the customs union would resolve many of the issues on the isle of Ireland that seems to us a practical solution.

On the border with Northern Ireland, the ambassador said a so-called hard border was not feasible – but the clock is ticking on finding an alternative soution.

There is no practical hard-border solution available, therefore, you have to find what the EU negotiating directive calls imaginative and flexible solutions.

Thats what weve been looking for for the past year. The clock is ticking now, time is moving on.

Youre hearing a bit of urgency on our part. Not least to have an executive up and running in Northern Ireland so they can contribute to this very important debate.

Varadkar is expected to meet separately with Stormonts main political parties. Key issues on the agenda will be Brexit and the regions political crisis.

Relations between the Irish government and the DUP, the regions biggest party, remain strained after Varadkar said Ireland would not help Britain design an economic border for Brexiters. He said Brexiters wanted a border so it was up to them to design one.

The DUPleader, Arlene Foster, described the comments as not helpful and said she was looking forward to meeting the taoiseach to discuss a number of issues.

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