Ireland 'does not want the UK to leave EU'

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Media captionLeaders of the 28 member states have plenty to discuss during the two-day summit, Elaine Jung explains

The Irish prime minster has said the door remains open for the UK to stay in the European Union (EU).

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was speaking in Brussels where he is attending his first European Union summit.

Mr Varadkar also said the Republic of Ireland did not want the UK to leave the EU, the single market or the customs union.

He said leaving the EU was a matter for the UK, but added that its position "may change".

He said: "Countries can take positions, often very strong positions, they are often negotiating positions, and yet the final outcome might be more favourable.

While Britain says it intends to leave the customs union and the single market, he said, it also says it wants a free trade agreement - and many elements of that free trade agreement might be very similar to the customs union.

The Taoiseach was speaking following a bilateral meeting with President of the European Council Donald Tusk.

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Who is Leo Varadkar?

The former GP is the son of an Irish nurse and a doctor from India.

He was first elected as a councillor at the age of 24 and took a seat in the Dáil in 2007.

Shortly before the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum in Ireland he came out as gay during an interview with RTÉ.

His views are regarded as a centre-right politically due to his approach to socio-economic issues.

Read more here

Asked if the UK should be given more flexibility on the timetable of the negotiations, so that both sides could get into the future trading relationship more quickly, Mr Varadkar said the outcome was more important than the timetable.

"I would rather have a good deal for Ireland in time, than one that doesn't work for us in a shorter time period," he said.

"When it comes to issues relating to the border... it will be difficult to determine the final shape of that until we know what the new trade arrangements are between the UK and the EU."

Mr Varadkar repeated that the Republic of Ireland's objective remained that there should be no economic border with Northern Ireland.

"Brexit is a British policy, it's not an Irish policy. But we have objectives, some strong objectives too, just as the British may have their views on how to Brexit should take shape, we have ours.

"We want to retain the normal trading relationships there has been between the two islands for many decades," he added.

'Special status'

The Irish government has said it is demanding "special status" for Northern Ireland after Brexit.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has dismissed what he described as the "language coming from London" in recent days that technology alone - cameras and online permits - could bypass the need for border posts.

Mr Coveney, who has recently met with EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, said an unprecedented "political solution" was needed to keep the status quo and an effectively invisible frontier.

"What we are insisting on achieving is a special status for Northern Ireland that allows the interaction on this island, as is currently the case, to be maintained," he said.

"It is not so much about a soft or hard border, it is about an invisible border effectively, that you don't notice as you cross it.

"To achieve that, we need to draw up a political solution here as well as technical and practical one, which doesn't really have any precedent in the European Union."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Simon Coveney said an unprecedented "political solution" was needed to keep the border effectively invisible

Mr Coveney said the solution would have to respect the territorial integrity of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.

"This is not going to be a straightforward problem to solve," he said.

The call for special status is a new departure for the Irish government.

Special status has been previously ruled out by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire.

Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Alliance Party have all called for Northern Ireland to have some sort of special status after the UK leaves the EU but the UUP and the DUP are both opposed.

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