October 18, 2018 / 2:54 PM / a month ago

Irish PM sees 'huge difficulties' with UK-wide Brexit border backstop

Ireland's Prime Minister (Taoiseach) and Defence Minister Leo Varadkar holds a news conference at the European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium October 18, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union would have “huge difficulties” agreeing to a United Kingdom-wide Irish border backstop as it would expose the bloc’s single market to unfair competition, Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Thursday.

Speaking at a news conference after EU leaders gathered in Brussels to seek a way to break the impasse in Brexit talks, Varadkar also said:

Some progress has been made in recent weeks “but certainly not the level of progress which we could describe as decisive progress,” he said. A lot of things have been agreed but there are still big gaps.”

Varadkar said 11 EU leaders spoke on Brexit after British Prime Minister Theresa May had left. He showed them the front page an Irish newspaper ran on Wednesday, recounting killings at a customs post on the island of Ireland in the 1970s.

That was to show his fellow EU leaders that fears extensive border checks between EU state Ireland and Britain’s province of Northern Ireland would risk reigniting sectarian violence were not exaggerated.

The European Parliament must not sign off on any agreement that undermined the single market and did not give Ireland what it needed in relation to the backstop, he said, adding that a Brexit deal should be finalised this year.

“Some people see Brexit as a storm. Passing storm that may be very rough but then will pass. But it’s not. What Brexit is it’s the political equivalent of climate change. It’s permanent change,” he said.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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