Varadkar Told to ‘Dial Down the Rhetoric’ over Irish Border Comments

Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar holds a press conference after the European Council on December 14, 2018, in Brussels. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty

Democratic Unionist Party MP Gregory Campbell has said Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar must “dial down the rhetoric” after the Taoiseach claimed the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland may need an “army presence” in the result of a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Varadkar claimed in an interview with Bloomberg on the sidelines of the meeting of the international elite at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that should the UK should leave the EU without a deal, with the UK’s Northern Ireland then operating a different customs arrangement to the bloc’s member-state Republic of Ireland, there would be a so-called “hard border” which he implied could threaten peace in the region.

“It would involve customs posts, it would involve people in uniform and it may involve the need, for example, for cameras, physical infrastructure, possibly a police presence or army presence to back it up,” the Irish Taoiseach said Friday.

“The problem with that in the context of Irish politics and history is those things become targets,” he added.

Northern Irish Unionist DUP MP Gregory Campbell said the EU nation leader should “dial down the rhetoric,” adding that it was “This is deeply unhelpful talk.”

“Mr Varadkar knows full well the connotations of such statements and he knows it’s nonsense,” Mr Campbell added.

The comments were also seized upon by the left-wing Sinn Féin, a party active in both Northern Ireland and the Republic which campaigns to unify the Isle of Ireland under Irish rule, with its president Mary Lou McDonald, while calling the comments “reckless and irresponsible,” using them as a pretext to call for a referendum in Northern Ireland on “Irish unity.”

“The Taoiseach has consistently ruled out a border poll on Irish unity. Today he paints a doomsday scenario of a return of soldiers to the border in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

“If that is the case then the only way to prevent such a scenario is by affording the Irish people their say in the form of a border poll on Irish unity,” Ms McDonald said.

The DUP has maintained that the European Union is using the Irish border as a means to eventually cut off the province from the rest of the UK, with DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson calling the issue a “con.”

“The IRA terrorist campaign was designed to remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom. We resisted that and will resist any deal with Brussels which is designed to do the same thing,” Mr Wilson said in November when stating his party’s opposition to Prime Minister Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement.

Conservative and DUP Brexiteers have called for the Irish backstop to be removed from the Withdrawal Agreement, which, in the result of the UK and EU not securing a trade deal by the end of the transition period (in December 2020) could lock Northern Ireland in regulatory alignment with the EU and threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom, cutting off the province by creating a customs border down the Irish Sea between the isle of Ireland and Great Britain.

The Withdrawal Agreement was voted down in an historic loss last week, with Mrs May’s Plan B set to be voted on in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Various media outlets have reported that the DUP may back Mrs May’s deal next week if the Irish backstop is replaced with “alternative arrangements,” with a DUP source telling The Telegraph the amendment “looks promising for us.”

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