Irish PM 'disrespectful' for hoping Brexit will not happen, says DUP

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Arlene Foster, the Democratic Unionist party leader, has accused the Irish taoiseach of “disrespecting” the will of the British people by publicly admitting that he hoped Brexit would never happen.

Foster intensified the war of words over the fate of the Irish border after Brexit by saying Leo Varadkar’s comments that the issue was one for the UK alone were “unhelpful”.

In a two-pronged DUP attack on Varadkar on Wednesday, another senior party figure, the MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, told Irish radio that the taoiseach should stop “huffing” about something he didn’t like.

Foster, speaking after an event at the former Maze prison outside Lisburn, said of Varadkar’s position on Brexit: “He may be hopeful, but that is disrespecting the will of the British people. Brexit is going to happen. We are leaving the European Union.

“I just hope the Republic of Ireland will continue to work constructively with us in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK because it is very much in their interest to have a Brexit that works for them as well as a Brexit that works for the UK,” the former Stormont first minister said.

Although relations between the DUP and the Irish government remain strained, Foster said she was looking forward to meeting Varadkar on Friday during his first visit to Northern Ireland since taking over as taoiseach in June.

During his trip, Varadkar will attend a gay pride event in Belfast on Saturday. Foster, whose party is strongly opposed to same-sex marriage, said the taoiseach was “perfectly entitled” to attend the event.

Donaldson, the DUP MP for Lagan Valley, said Varadkar’s recent declaration that he “would not design a border for Brexiteers” was an unhelpful intervention.

He told RTÉ Radio’s News at One that there was no point in returning to old enmities and what was needed was a plan devised by both sides.

“The taoiseach has reverted to the old days of megaphone diplomacy and that’s not helpful,” Donaldson said.

Tensions between politicians on both sides of the border were raised last week after Varadkar was asked by reporters to respond to reports in London that the Irish government wanted to place customs and passports checks at airports and ports as a means of achieving the “frictionless border” desired by all sides.

In robust comments that departed from the softer approach of his predecessor, Enda Kenny, Varadkar said: “It’s up to them to say what it is, say how it would work and first of all convince their own people, their own voters, that this is actually a good idea.”

In a staunch riposte, the DUP described the idea of pushing the border out to the coastline as “absurd” and “unacceptable”, attributing Varadkar’s words to inexperience.

Donaldson told RTÉ on Wednesday that Dublin should be part of the decision-making process. “If the taoiseach wants to take a back seat on this that would be a matter for him, but that would be a retrograde step,” he said.

“I think the taoiseach would be the first to protest if we were to suggest we were to devise the plan and implement it [without consultation]. Does huffing in the corner solve anything? The reality is the UK is leaving the EU; we need to be pragmatic about this, [there’s] no point in huffing, this is a challenge we must rise to meet.”

Donaldson was speaking following the publication of a parliamentary report in Dublin that urged the Irish government to negotiate a special status arrangement for Northern Ireland in the Brexit talks.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 2nd August 2017 16.05 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010