On Friday, Irish PM, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that Brexit was the “challenge of our generation,” during his first official visit to Northern Ireland. 

Speaking at the Queen’s University Belfast, the PM called for “unique solutions” to ensure that the relationship between the UK and EU is preserved. He warned that “every single aspect of life in Northern Ireland could be affected after Brexit – jobs and the economy, the border, citizens' rights, cross border workers, travel, trade, agriculture, energy, fisheries, aviation, EU funding, tourism, public services, the list goes on.” Varadkar then went on to propose two options. The first option would be a UK-EU customs union if the UK wants to remain in the customs union, just like Turkey. The second option would be for a “deep free trade agreement” with the EU if the UK does not want to stay in the single market, with the option to rejoin the EFTA (European Free Trade Association).  

During his address, Varadkar said: “if the United Kingdom does not want to stay in the customs union, perhaps there can be a EU-UK customs union. After all, we have one with Turkey. Surely we can have one with the United Kingdom?”

“If the UK does not want to stay in the single market, perhaps it could enter into a deep free trade agreement with the EU and rejoin EFTA, of which it was a member prior to accession. And if this cannot be agreed now, then perhaps we have a transition period during which the UK stays in the single market and customs union while things are worked out,” he said. 

Varadkar’s reasoning for voicing his concerns, is because he warned that those who are in favour of a hard Brexit had 14 months to come up with a plan with nothing to show for it. Especially solutions relating to an Irish border. “If they cannot, and I believe they cannot, we can then talk meaningfully about solutions that might work for all of us,” he said during his speech. The PM stated that no one wanted to return to the days of militarised borders, saying, “the border itself was a very different place: a place of bloodshed and violence, of checkpoints. A barrier to trade, prosperity and peace. “A brutal physical manifestation of historic divisions and political failure,” he said 

 After his speech at the university, Varadkar will be meeting with each leader of the political parties of Northern Ireland, including the DUP. However, things between him and the DUP have been a bit tense of late, due to disagreements on whether it was Ireland’s responsibility to help with re-drawing an Irish border to please the hard-line Brexiteers in London and the DUP in Belfast. "It will come as no surprise to anyone here that I do not want there to be an economic border on our island, nor do I want one between Ireland and Britain,” he said. “By economic border, I am not talking about currency or variation in tax rates. I am talking about a barrier to free trade and commerce," he added.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today Programme, prior to Varadkar’s speech, Irish Ambassador to the UK, Daniel Mulhall, echoed in part some of the Irish PM’s remarks, saying that it would be Ireland’s hope that the UK would remain in the EU customs union. The EU customs union allows goods to pass through the area without any customs duties being issued. “Ideally, we would like to see the UK remain in the customs union. That would solve many of the problems that would arise,” he said. 

Mulhall also mentioned the border with Northern Ireland, stating that another hard border was not viable, however also stressed that time was running out to find a more reasonable and alternate solution. There is no practical hard-border solution available, therefore you have to find what the EU negotiating directive calls imaginative and flexible solutions,” he said.