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Varadkar: Brexit extension not an alternative to legally binding Irish backstop

Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar (left) with the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, during a press conference at Government Buildings, during his visit to Dublin, ahead of the European Council on 28-29 June to discuss Brexit and other issues currently on the European agenda. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday June 21, 2018. See PA story POLITICS Brexit Juncker. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

By Cate McCurry, Press Association

An extended Brexit transition period is not an alternative to the EU's backstop proposal, Irish premier Leo Varadkar has warned.

The Taoiseach said he is open to the idea of an extension but it fails to resolve the border issue.

"I am open to the idea of an extension or a longer transition period, but that's not an alternative to a legally binding Irish backstop, so it's certainly not an alternative; it's something that might be part of the mix," he said.

He also reiterated his warning that there can be a return to violence in Northern Ireland as a consequence of the European Union and the United Kingdom failing to reach a Brexit deal which ensures there is no hard border.

Mr Varadkar was speaking on the second day of the Asia-Europe summit in Brussels.

After meeting the deputy prime minister of Malaysia, the Fine Gael leader met Norway's prime minister, Erna Solberg.

Mr Varadkar has been criticised for his comments on Thursday that violence could erupt in Northern Ireland if there is a hard border after Brexit.

He denied suggestions, however, that it could be centre-stage of Brexit negotiations.

"The negotiations are very much about a solution and we have got to the point where they have become very technical but certainly it's something that is in the back of my mind as a potential consequence if we get this wrong," he said.

As thousands of people are expected to march in London on Saturday to call for a second referendum on a final Brexit deal, Mr Varadkar refused to back their demands saying he would not intervene in British politics.

"That's very much a decision for the British people and the British Government," he said.

"In Ireland, on occasions, we have had a second referendum. We have been able to negotiate changes and on foot of them we had a second referendum in the past but I do recall Irish people and me personally taking offence at foreign leaders coming over to intervene on our referendums so I would never repeat that mistake."

He also described the internal politics of the British Government as "difficult", adding that Prime Minister Theresa May is running a minority government with internal divisions.

Asked if Mrs May was going to have to drop the support of the Democratic Unionists in order to push through a Brexit deal, Mr Varadkar said it was "her judgment call".

"Even the opposition in the UK is divided on these (Brexit) issues so that's a judgment call she is going to have to make.

"As I pointed out yesterday, we shouldn't forget this isn't just a case of getting a deal that Westminster can accept; it also has to be accepted by the European Parliament as well.

"And the European Parliament has been very strong in supporting Ireland and our need to have a backstop to avoid a hard border and, particularly when it comes to citizens' rights, the European Parliament has been a very strong ally too."

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