The government must sit up and take notice of the Irish prime minister’s wish for the UK to stay in the single market after Brexit, campaigners say.
In a major speech in Belfast on Friday, taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Britain’s vote to leave the EU represented “the biggest challenge in our generation” and that life in Northern Ireland would be impacted in every way by Brexit.
“If the UK does not want to stay in the single market, perhaps it could enter into a deep free trade agreement with the EU and rejoin Efta, of which it was a member prior to accession,” he said.
“And if this cannot be agreed now, then perhaps we have a transition period during which the UK stays in the single market and customs union while things are worked out.”
Ahead of a European Council meeting this October, Varadkar said his country would “do all we can in Brussels, London and Dublin, to achieve the best outcome for everyone on this island; to protect our peace, our freedom, our rights and our prosperity.”
He said he still hoped the UK’s withdrawal from the EU would not happen and stressed he did not want to see any economic border in Ireland.
Labour MP Alison McGovern, a supporter of the Open Britain campaign against a hard Brexit, said ministers must take the Irish premier’s views into account.
She added: “The closeness and importance of Britain’s relationship with Ireland is such that when their prime minister says he wants us to stay in the single market and the Customs Union, UK ministers should sit up and take notice.
“The government has pledged to retain an open border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. But if it is to be free for trade as well as people, and if businesses and citizens are to avoid disruption, the UK must remain a member of the single market and the Customs Union.
“Ministers must not allow Brexit to damage Northern Ireland or the relationship between Ireland and the UK in any way.”
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the taoiseach’s comments were “pure politicking”.
“It’s simply taking things backwards at a time when common sense co-operation between our two countries and between the Republic and Northern Ireland is what’s needed,” he added.