Irish PM: Brexit one of greatest challenges since independence

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Brexit presents one of the biggest challenges since Irish independence, the country’s premier has said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told Fine Gael ministers, TDs and party members that his position remains firm that a backstop will be in place as part of the withdrawal treaty.

In his opening speech at the parliamentary party’s two-day Think In, Mr Varadkar said he will “bring home the best possible deal” from the Brexit negotiations.

The event, held in Co Galway, will see the party’s faithful discuss a range of issues, including the upcoming budget, housing and Brexit.

“As we all know, Brexit presents one of the greatest challenges since independence,” he said.

“We’re working tirelessly to get the best possible deal for this country. We are preparing our businesses and our agriculture sector, as well as ensuring the transport sector is ready for whatever happens.

“I want to reiterate that it is our desire that there will be the closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK after Brexit.

“If that does not prove possible, the backstop will be in place as part of the withdrawal treaty to ensure no hard border on the island and this will apply unless and until a better solution is found.

“You can be sure that the Tanaiste (Simon Coveney), (European Affairs) Minister (Helen) McEntee and I will be deeply engaged and vigilant on all aspects of Brexit in the weeks ahead.

“We will bring home the best deal possible and we will stand our ground.”

The Think In event comes ahead of Fine Gael’s 85th birthday this weekend, which Mr Varadkar said was an opportunity to reflect on the country’s progress.

Speaking to the media, the Taoiseach said that a lot of work will be done over the coming months.

He added: “There’s the budget, there’s continuing negotiations on Brexit, ensuring we continue to improve living standards, and also focusing on issues of grave concern to the party and the public, including healthcare and housing.

“I look forward to having a robust and interesting couple of days in Galway.”

Mr Varadkar also said that while he does not expect there will be a general election, it would be “prudent” to be ready for one.

He added that his party is not contemplating approaching other parties about a confidence and supply agreement after Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin turned down his request to hold talks on extending their current arrangement.

“I’m not contemplating that, what we have asked is for Fianna Fail to come to the table and talk about renewing the agreement,” he added.

“I want to take away the uncertainty about when the next election is going to be held.”

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