DUBLIN (AFP) – Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he was “surprised and disappointed” on Monday (Dec 4) after Britain appeared to pull back from a predicted deal with EU leaders on the status of the Irish border after Brexit.
“I am surprised and disappointed that the British government now appears not to be in a position to conclude what was agreed earlier today,” Varadkar said at a press conference in Dublin.
“I accept that the Prime Minister (Theresa May) has asked for more time, and I know that she faces many challenges, and I acknowledge that she is negotiating in good faith,” he added.
Britain and the EU failed to strike a Brexit divorce deal during talks in Brussels on Monday but said they were “confident” of reaching an accord later this week.
May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker fell short of a breakthrough, despite some encouraging progress on the Irish border issue.
A deal on that thorny issue had been widely touted Monday morning but failed to materialise amid angry reactions from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the staunchly pro-British group that helps May’s minority government pass legislation in Westminster.
DUP leader Arlene Foster, who held a mid-afternoon phone call with May, had earlier taken to the airwaves after reports emerged of an agreement that would give Northern Ireland a different regulatory status from the rest of Britain.
“Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom,” Foster, whose party supported Brexit, told reporters in televised comments in Belfast.
“We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom,” she said.
Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom, is set to leave the European Union under Brexit while the Republic of Ireland remains an EU member.
Varadkar said he had spoken to Juncker following the failure to strike a deal “and he has confirmed to me that Ireland’s position remains Europe’s position”.
He added: “I still hope that this matter can be concluded in the coming days as agreed.”