Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said “time is running out” to get the best outcome for the island of Ireland in the Brexit negotiations.
Speaking on his first visit to Belfast since taking office, Mr Varadkar said “every single aspect of life in Northern Ireland could be affected by Brexit”, which is “the challenge of this generation”.
The Irish Prime Minister noted that the EU would meet in October to decide whether sufficient progress had been made in the first phase of exit talks to allow the negotiations to proceed to the next phase.
He stressed that Northern Ireland’s voice needed to be heard ahead of that crunch decision and urged politicians there to resolve their differences and get power-sharing at Stormont back on track.
Video: Ireland against ‘border for Brexiteers’
Mr Varadkar said: “Today we need an answer to the question, of who do we – and others in Europe – talk to in Belfast?
“Who will speak for Northern Ireland and her 1.8 million people?
“Time is running out, and I fear there will be no extra time allowed.”
Mr Varadkar also took aim at politicians advocating a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland to come up with proposals as to how that would work.
Video: ‘No other way except hard border’
“They’ve already had 14 months to do so,” he said.
The Irish PM again insisted his government will not design a hard border for Brexiteers.
Mr Varadkar suggested an EU-UK customs union could be one potential solution.
“After all, we have one with Turkey. Surely we can have one with the United Kingdom?” he said.
Video: Ireland urges UK to stay in customs union
Mr Varadkar also suggested that if the UK does not want to remain in the single market, it could perhaps agree a deep free trade agreement with the EU and rejoin the European Free Trade Association.
He said there could be a period of transition in which the UK remains in the single market and customs union while the issues are worked out.
Mr Varadkar pledged his government will do all it can in the negotiations to achieve the best outcomes for peace, freedom, rights and prosperity on the island of Ireland.
“At a time when Brexit threatens to drive a wedge between north and south we need to build more bridges and fewer borders,” Mr Varadkar said.
“I promise I will play my part in helping to do exactly that,” he added.