Ireland’s Prime Minister has told Sky News that Britain is asking for too much in its divorce talks with the European Union.
In a striking intervention, Leo Varadkar said the UK wants “a divorce and an open relationship the day after”, which was a “very difficult position to accept”.
Mr Varadkar was speaking after Prime Minister Theresa May said not enough progress has been made to move the negotiations onto the second phase – Britain’s future trading relationship with the bloc.
For the talks to proceed, European leaders need to be of the view that “sufficient progress” has been made on three divorce issues – the exit bill, citizens’ rights and the Irish border.
Mr Varadkar struck a pessimistic note, telling Sky News that while he had a “very good and constructive meeting” with Mrs May at a summit in Sweden, “I can’t say in any honesty that it’s close, either on the Irish issue or the financial settlement”.
The Irish PM said he wanted there to be progress, but he told Sky’s Lewis Goodall that more realism was needed from London.
Mr Varadkar said: “Ireland’s trading relationship with Britain is enormous and of course we want to have a new trade arrangement.
“But we should never forget that Brexit is a British policy, it’s one that Britain has imposed on the rest of Europe and it’s causing enormous difficulties for all of Europe and Ireland in particular.
“To me it seems that after 40 years of marriage, most of them good, Britain now wants a divorce and wants an open relationship the day after.
“And that’s a very difficult position to accept, but I’m sure we’ll work something out.”
When asked if he would be willing to veto moving the talks onto the next phase, Mr Varadkar said he was “not in the business of threatening vetoes”, but did not explicitly rule it out.
In separate remarks to journalists covering the summit, Mr Varadkar was much more forceful.
He said: “Before we move to phase two talks on trade, we want taken off the table any suggestion that there will be a physical border, a hard border, new barriers to trade on the island of Ireland.
“If we have to wait until the New Year, if we have to wait for further concessions, so be it.”
Mr Varadkar added: “It’s 18 months since the referendum, it’s 10 years since people who wanted a referendum started agitating for one.
“Sometimes it doesn’t seem like they have thought all this through.”
Earlier on Friday, Ireland’s foreign minister said “serious issues” concerning the UK-Irish border after Brexit mean trade talks should be delayed and a five-year transition period implemented.
Meanwhile, Brexit Secretary David Davis suggested he wanted to see compromise from Brussels, warning EU leaders in an interview that they will get “nothing…for nothing”.
When asked about Mr Davis’ claim, European Council President Donald Tusk said: “I can say only that I appreciate Mr Davis’ English sense of humour.”
Mr Tusk has set a deadline for the start of December for Britain to make progress on the divorce bill and the Irish border.
Speaking after talks with Mrs May, he said Brussels has finished the internal work required to green light trade talks at the forthcoming European Council summit on 14-15 December.
“We will be ready to move on to the second phase already in December, but in order to do that we need to see more progress from the UK side,” Mr Tusk said.
“While good progress on citizens’ rights is being made, we need to see much more progress on Ireland and on the financial settlement.”
Downing Street has dismissed reports suggesting Britain could be ready to offer another £20bn to Brussels to break the logjam on the exit bill.