Leo Varadkar discusses shared sovereignty and Brexit

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As well as Ireland considering its own response, Mr Varadkar also warned of the possibility of new trade barriers being brought in. Specifically, he suggested if Brexit Minister Lord Frost took what has been dubbed the “nuclear option”, the bloc “would have no option other than to introduce what we call rebalancing measures”.

Mr Varadkar told broadcaster RTE: “We had a meeting yesterday of the Cabinet subcommittee on Brexit essentially to dust down and restart our contingency preparations should we get into difficulty. We’re making preparations.”

If Britain steps away from the Northern Ireland Protocol and its wider EU divorce deal, the EU “would have no option other than to introduce what we call rebalancing measures to respond”, Mr Varadkar emphasised.

Asked if the European Union could or should also consider suspending the post-Brexit trade deal, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, Mr Varadkar said it was something the EU commission “is going to have to consider”.

Mr Varadkar said he hoped an escalation could be avoided.

He added: “Prime Minister Johnson always spoke about wanting Brexit done.

“Brexit is kind of done. But this potentially undoes it.

“I don’t think it would be good for us, for Great Britain, and I don’t see how it would be good for Northern Ireland.”

Mr Varadkar became a familiar figure in the years following the 2016 referendum, and was involved in several high-profile meetings with both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and predecessor Theresa May over the course of the next few years.

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He stood down as Ireland’s leader last year as part of a coalition deal that saw him replaced by Micheal Martin, leader of the rival Fianna Fail party.

However, as things stand, he is likely to return to the top job in 2022.

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Martin insisted it was not inevitable that the UK Government would trigger Article 16 of the protocol, which he said would be a “reckless and irresponsible” move.

The Taoiseach urged Britain to consider the damage such a move would cause to its relationships with the EU and Ireland.

He explained: “I don’t think anything should be taken as inevitable in respect of the current talks on the protocol that are under way between the European Union and the United Kingdom Government.”

However, Mr Martin added: “Obviously, European Union/United Kingdom relations are very important over time and they should be a relationship that’s built on sustained trust, they should be constructive.

“They should lead to the mutual benefit of citizens of the UK and citizens of the European Union.”

He stressed: “The relationship between Ireland and Great Britain is a fundamental one, the relationship between the two Governments over 30 years has been central to the peace process, central to the architecture of the Good Friday Agreement.

“There’s an obligation on all parties to take those two fundamental sets of relationships into account before any action is taken.”

“Obviously, European Union/United Kingdom relations are very important over time and they should be a relationship that’s built on sustained trust, they should be constructive.”

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Fine Gael’s deputy leader, has also been outspoken on the subject of Article 16, which if triggered would suspend Britain’s adherence to the Northern Ireland protocol.

Also speaking on Tuesday, he said Ireland believed there was a very serious risk that the British government will move to set aside parts of its EU divorce deal in the coming weeks, triggering a “very robust response” from Brussels.

Mr Coveney told a committee of Ireland’s legislature, the Dail: “If the British government decided to formally set aside elements of the (Northern Ireland) Protocol using Article 16 as a facilitator for that, I believe the EU will see that as an act of bad faith.

“I think will trigger a very robust response from the EU side.”

Mr Coveney warned if Britain does not cease demanding that Brussels “deliver the impossible”, then negotiations will soon run out of road.

The Northern Ireland protocol is the mechanism agreed by the UK and the EU to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, whereby the North effectively remains within the EU’s single market for goods.

Critics within the Unionist community says this has resulted in a border down the Irish Sea which has driven a wedge between them and the UK.

Speculation is mounting that Mr Johnson will sanction the invoking of Article 16 at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting.

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