'Britain needs to bring Brexit plan to the table' - Irish Government says ahead of meeting with Theresa May in London
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'Britain needs to bring Brexit plan to the table' - Irish Government says ahead of meeting with Theresa May in London

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar will meet with Prime Minister Theresa May in London today where Brexit will top the agenda.

It will be the first time the pair have met since the Prime Minister's speech in Florence last Friday where she promised to protect the Good Friday Agreement and Common Travel Area.

Mrs May used the 35-minute speech to outline plans for a two-year transition period to smooth the Brexit process, as talks with the EU over a ‘divorce’ deal continue to stall.

Ahead of the meeting today at Downing Street, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told RTE's Morning Ireland that Britain now needs to bring a plan to the table as to how it will fulfil those aspirations.

When asked if the Irish Government was losing patience with Theresa May and her Government on Brexit, Minister Coveney said: "There is an evolving debate on Brexit within Britain, of course we would like more clarity but what we got from Theresa May's speech in Florence was some welcome detail that hadn't been there before.

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"She reaffirmed that Ireland has unique issues to consider, she reaffirmed that protecting the Belfast Agreement and the Common Travel Area were of huge importance to Britain, she reaffirmed that there could be no infrastructure on the border on the island of Ireland, which is very important for us and for the first time she started talking about Britain's responsibilities to the island of Ireland as a whole, north and south. That language is very welcome.

But he added: "The detail of how we're actually going to get there of course, is not there yet.

"What Britain really needs to bring to the table now is a plan to fulfill the aspirations that she outlined in her speech, which is what we want as well."

Mr Coveney said the Irish Government believes matters would be easier if Britain accepted that Northern Ireland, or indeed Britain as a whole, would stay in a customs union with the rest of the European Union.

Simon Coveney has prevoiusly said Ireland's strength lies in its EU partnerships. (Picture: Sky News)

"That would prevent any need for a customs border, which would be a big step forward," he said.

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"I think that is reassuring for Irish business, that actually, she has made it very clear that whatever happens here, from a transition period to a more lasting future relationship, businesses aren't going to be asked to change their systems twice in terms of adapting to new realities or new regulations."

The Prime Minister's comments come as beef farmers in Northern Ireland called for a five year transition period after Brexit, according to a report in The Financial Times which revealed the Livestock and Meat Commission have deep concerns about declining farm profits under WTO rules.

Minister Coveney said: "We would like the maintenance of the status quo indefinitely into the future. We don't want Brexit. It's not good for Ireland, it's not good for Britain, that's our view.

"But if Britain is determined to move ahead to leave the European Union, we want as close to the status quo as possible.

"That's why we want Britain to effectively stay in a customs union, to effectively stay in an extended single market and there are many in Britain who are calling for that now, both in the Labour party and also some in the Conservative party.

"The longer the transition period the better for us," he added.