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Taoiseach addresses Queens University Belfast

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addressing Queens University Belfast

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar today addressed an audience in Queens University, Belfast as part of a two day visit to the North of Ireland.

In a wide ranging speech the Taoiseach said

The challenge of our generation is Brexit.

He stressed that every single aspect of life in Northern Ireland would be effected by the outcome of the negotiations underway in Brussels.

Referencing those who advocate a hard Brexit, he said he believed

The onus should be on them to come up with proposals for such a border and to convince us and convince you; citizens, students, academics, farmers, business people that it's in your interest to have these new barriers to commerce and trade.

The Taoiseach added:

It will come as no surprise to anyone here that I do not want there to be an economic border on our island nor do I want one between Ireland and Britain. By economic border, I am not talking about currency or variation in tax rates. I am talking about a barrier to free trade and commerce.
While the UK is leaving the EU, the Government I lead is committed to remaining at the heart of Europe; preserving the hard-won peace on this island and protecting and growing our economy in the face of Brexit.

Looking at possible practical solutions the Taoiseach said

If the United Kingdom does not want to stay in the Customs Union, perhaps there can be an EU-UK customs union.

After all, we have one with Turkey. Surely we can have one with the United Kingdom?

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. And if this cannot be agreed now, then perhaps we can have a transition period during which the UK stays in the single market and customs union while these things are worked out. 

In conclusion the Taoiseach quoted Willie Redmond:

It would be a fine memorial to the men who have died if we could over their graves build up a bridge between the north and south.

I believe we should all honour his words today.

At a time when Brexit threatens to drive a wedge between north and south we need to build more bridges and fewer borders.

I promise I will play my part in helping to do exactly that.

Read the Taoiseach's full speech here.