Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said Brexit talks can only move forward if sufficient progress is made before October.
Speaking in Canada, following a bilateral meeting with that country’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, Mr Varadkar questioned why the UK would want to depart from the customs union and the single market, which he said were perfectly good trade deals with the EU.
He was speaking after British Brexit minister, David Davis, had said early discussions of the future trading relationship between Britain and the EU would help progress on the Irish border, a key issue in phase one of withdrawal talks.
“It is simply not possible to reach a near-final agreement on the border issue, until we’ve begun to talk about how our broader future customs arrangement will work,” Davis said in an article for the Sunday Times.
But, in response, Mr Varadkar said: “That [decision] will be made by the EU council, when we meet in October, and we will see how far we have gotten on those issues, and only if sufficient progress has been made on all three issues will we decide to continue to further talks, but that is something that will be decided by all 27 leaders in October,” he said.
Mr Varadkar said that David Davis’s suggestion was common sense. “If we are able to have a trade agreement between the EU and the UK, it will be much easier to sort out issues around any border,” he said.
“Where I depart from him a little bit on is the fact we already have a trade agreement, which is the customs union and the single market, so it seems we already have two very good trade agreements in place between the EU and the UK, and I am not sure what they have in mind as a better one,” Mr Varadkar told reporters.
The Taoiseach said the papers published by the British give further clarity as to their position.
“It is very positive in the area of the Common Travel Area, because it is much more than that.
“It is really a common area of citizenship, allowing British and Irish people to live, work, study, reside, access housing, health, and welfare in each other’s country,” he said.
“That Britain committed to retaining that area is something we welcome. We welcome their commitment to the peace process, the Good Friday Agreement, and to continue peace funding,” Mr Varadkar added.
He said the difficulty would be the new trading relationship between the UK and the EU, because that will determine the relationship between Ireland and the UK.
A paper outlining the British position on Northern Ireland, published on Wednesday, said it will seek a series of waivers for goods and people crossing the border.
This paper said the British government wants to avoid border posts with the Republic, when the UK leaves the EU, and to preserve the Good Friday peace agreement.
Mr Davis said: “if we get the comprehensive, free-trade agreement we’re seeking, as part of our future partnership, solutions in Northern Ireland are easier to deliver.”
Next week, Mr Davis will publish five position papers, further explaining Britain’s Brexit negotiating strategy, in an attempt to accelerate the talks.