By Cate McCurry, Press Association
A hard border on the island of Ireland cannot be avoided through goodwill and wishful thinking, the Irish premier has said.
Leo Varadkar said the current draft Brexit deal on the table is the only way of preventing a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The Taosieach said the heads of the 27 EU member states agreed not to speculate on a no-deal scenario, but he added that Ireland and the EU is making preparations for it.
Speaking at a Project Ireland event in Dublin after returning from Brussels where the EU and the UK Government backed the draft withdrawal text, Mr Vardakar said it makes sense for everyone to agree to the current deal.
“We need to be realistic here, there is no country in the EU that can be fully prepared for a cliff-edge, no-deal Brexit,” he said.
“Their (British Parliament) decision on whether or not to accept the deal that had been negotiated by their government is a matter for their Parliament, so we don’t want to be counter-productive by being seen to interfere with the of decisions of the British Parliament.
“You could imagine the reaction that might happen in Ireland if you had politicians from Spain or Britain or Denmark coming to Ireland and telling us how we should vote in a parliamentary vote.”
He said the current deal is the “best deal” available to the UK and that one of the “big benefits” of the backstop is that it provides a single customs territory.
The Taoiseach added that if the UK Parliament vote against the deal, it will risk crashing out of the EU with no customs arrangements in place.
“If they sign up to this deal, and even if we can’t achieve a future relationship treaty, they have the assurance that they will continue to have access to EU markets no matter what and in the same deal we have the assurance that there will be no hard border.
“I don’t want to speculate on a no-deal scenario but what I will say is that you can’t avoid a hard border just through goodwill, political statements and wishful thinking.
“You have to have an agreement on aligning customs and regulations and we have that agreement now, and this is how we avoid a hard border.”
The Fine Gael leader went on to suggest that Sinn Fein’s seven MPs should consider resigning their Westminster seats to give voters in Northern Ireland an opportunity to elect MPs who would take up their seats.
He also said that Sinn Fein should take their seats ahead of the crucial Brexit vote despite its abstention policy.
“Sinn Fein is an unusual party in that it isn’t taking up its seats in Westminster for one reason and not taking its seats in Stormont for another,” he added.
“Generally, people who get involved in politics do so because they want to make a difference and they want to use the democratic process to get good outcomes for their citizens.
“If they are not willing to take up their seats because they feel they can’t because they got elected on the basis of abstention, they do have the option now of resigning their seats and allowing people in those constituencies to decide whether or not they want to have a say when this vote comes to Westminster.”