Leo Varadkar says Northern Ireland protocol in Brexit deal ‘very strict’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Ireland has said mistakes were made on all sides in the handling of Brexit, vowing to be “flexible and fair” when attempting to resolve issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He said the post-Brexit protocol is “very strict” and he understands unionist concerns that the treaty has made them feel less British.

Varadkar, who became Taoiseach for a second time in December, has become deeply unpopular within unionism and some sections of loyalism, which claim he was a key figure in the creation of the controversial protocol.

“I am sure we have all made mistakes in the handling of Brexit,” Varadkar said. “There was no road map, no manual, it was not something we expected and we have done our best to deal with it.

“Again, I look forward to traveling to Northern Ireland early in the new year, meeting with all parties and reaching out to all parties and all communities in an effort to find a solution.

“One thing I’ve said in the past is that, when we drew up the protocol, when it was originally negotiated, it was maybe a little too strict.

“And we have seen that the protocol works without being fully implemented.

“And that’s why I think there’s room for flexibility and there’s room for change and we’re open to that and ready for that, and I know from speaking [European Commission] President [Ursula] von der Leyen and [EC vice-president] Maros Šefčovič, he has the same situation.

“So, we are ready to show flexibility and compromise. We want there to be a settlement.

“And, you know, I’ve talked to a lot of people who come from unionist backgrounds in Northern Ireland over the years.

“I understand how they feel about the protocol. They feel that it undermines their place in the union, that it creates a barrier between Britain and Northern Ireland that did not exist before.

“And I understand that and I get that. But it’s also true of Brexit.

“Brexit was imposed in Northern Ireland without cross-community consensus, without the support of the majority of people in Northern Ireland, and one of the good things about the EU was that it reduced barriers and reduced borders between North and South. And that was a great assurance, especially for those coming from a nationalist background.

“So I think there are two sides to this story. A lot of unionist people feel that the Protocol has alienated them from Great Britain.

“A lot of people from a nationalist background in Northern Ireland feel that it alienates them from the rest of Ireland.”

Varadkar said that Brexit is a reality and it is not going to be reversed.

“I accept it – I’m sorry but I accept it – and everything we’ve done since then, whether it’s backstops or protocols, has been a way of dealing with that reality and avoiding a hard border on our island.” It was an effort.” To make sure that human rights are upheld and not flouted in Northern Ireland, which is also really important to me, and also that the European Single Market is protected, and those are my firm red lines.

“The backstops, the protocols, were just mechanisms to achieve those objectives and as long as we can achieve those objectives, I will be as flexible and reasonable as I can.”

Powersharing is in flux in Northern Ireland due to the DUP boycott of Stormont institutions in protest of the protocol.

The region’s largest unionist party has insisted it will not return to a devolved government unless radical changes are made to the trading system that created the economic barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The European Union and the UK are involved in negotiations to reduce the impact of the protocol. It remains to be seen whether any deal struck by London and Brussels will be enough to persuade the DUP to lift its blockade on power sharing.

The UK and Irish governments are keen to see devolution return ahead of April’s historic 25th anniversary of Northern Ireland’s Good Friday peace accord.


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