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Leo Varadkar says Ireland will take firm line in post-Brexit trade talks

Aoife Moore/PA Wire

By Rebecca Black, Aoife Moore and Michael McHugh, PA

Ireland will take a very firm line in post-Brexit trade talks, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said.

Fishing and farming communities will be protected during the upcoming negotiations, the Irish premier pledged.

Around a third of Ireland's fish like mackerel and prawns comes from UK waters.

Almost three quarters of UK fish is exported to the EU, the Taoiseach said.

The Republic has a budget surplus to cushion it if a hard Brexit happens at the end of the year and damaged the economy.

Mr Varadkar told Irish broadcaster RTE: "Having control of their own fishing grounds is not going to be much use to them unless they can export to the EU.

"That is why it gets tied up with trade and we are going to take a very firm line on that to make sure that we protect our coastal communities and our fishing industry."

UK Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove told BBC Breakfast that the UK will be free to go its own way on rules and regulations after Brexit.

Asked if he could guarantee that there would be frictionless trade after Brexit, Mr Gove replied: "No.

"We want trade to be as frictionless as possible but the EU is clear, you can only have fully frictionless trade if you accept all of their rules, if you accept all their laws, you are subordinate to their judges, you are subordinate to their political structures."

Mr Varadkar said a lot of work remained outstanding.

"It is not done yet, it is not over and the next phase is the negotiation of the trade agreement between the EU and UK.

"That is absolutely essential for Irish farmers, for the rural economy, for our fishermen, for 200,000 people working in export industries across Ireland and it is also going to be essential in terms of getting the rating, the revenues and the strong economy that we need to invest in health and housing."

The Taoiseach said he was confident a "good" deal can be reached.

"We want free trade with the UK with no tariffs, no quotas, as little bureaucracy and as few checks as possible," he said.

"I am adamant that our future partnership with the UK must go beyond trade.

"It needs to cover a broad range of issues, including fisheries, universities, co-operation on research and economics generally."

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney toured Dublin Port as the first ships of Brexit day docked and unloaded.

He said: "It has such an impact potentially on the future of the Irish economy and the future of the Irish fishing industry, on the future of Irish agriculture, on the future of the Irish tourism industry."

Ireland goes to the polls for a General Election next month.

Mr Coveney added: "Put quite simply, all of the plans, all of the manifestos that are being debated and discussed in this election campaign, much of that is just aspirational if we don't maintain and protect a strong economy through the challenges of Brexit.

"We felt it was important to be in Dublin Port where 60% of everything that comes into Ireland comes through, and the port, working with other agencies in the state, have spent 30 million euros to prepare for the new realities of Brexit.

"We are, as of today, Brexit-ready, and we are prepared for the new realities should there be no transition period in place."

Brexit Day is expected to be greeted with both protests and some celebrations on the island of Ireland.

In the final hours before the UK officially leaves the EU, a series of protests have been planned along the Irish border.

Anti-Brexit campaigners will also hold a demonstration at Stormont on Friday afternoon, before Brexit-backers later hold a celebration party at the gates of the seat of Northern Ireland's devolved government from 10.30pm for a countdown to 11pm.

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