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Next phase of Brexit talks may start in 'three months or so', says Taoiseach

It could take another three months to get to the second stage of Brexit talks.

An agreement was made on phase one last week which ensures there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland, while phase two deals with trade

27 remaining member states are expected to give the official go-ahead later to move on to stage two of negotiations.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says there are no dates set in stone.

He said: "The indicative timetable is that we spend the next three months or so working on the withdrawal agreement and putting into a legal, international agreement what was agreed last week, talking a bit about the two-year transtition phase.

"And once we have that done we can talk about the new trading relationship."

Mr Varadkar yesterday said Brexiteers need to acknowledge that they created the difficulties surrounding the Northern Ireland border.

The Taoiseach said that he is trying to resolve the issue and ensure that Northern Ireland can retain the "peace and freedom of movement" it has had for the past 20 years.

Speaking on his arrival at the European Summit in Brussels ahead of Brexit negotiations, Mr Varadkar said: "My message to all of the people in Northern Ireland is, what we want to continue on the island of Ireland is exactly what we had for the last 20 years, which is peace and freedom of movement and free trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland and indeed between Ireland and Britain."

He added: "What is disrupting that is Brexit and I would hope that some of the people who supported Brexit and campaigned for that would realise, or at least acknowledge, that they are the ones who created this problem and I am one of those people who is trying to resolve it, trying to retain what we have had for 20 years ... That's what I am working towards."

Mr Varadkar said he is happy with the "maintain full alignment" agreement that was made last week.

"In this backstop scenario the UK and Northern Ireland in particular would maintain full alignment with the rules and regulations of the internal market and customs union.

"That gives us a very strong assurance that there won't be a hard border on the island of Ireland," he added.

Mr Varadkar said that while there are those who want to "spin" what was agreed for their own "political reasons", the language of the agreement is "pretty clear".

Speaking about the meaning of full alignment, he said: "Our view is [the Joint Report] is very strong language. Maintain means 'keep as it is' of course. Full means 'full' not 'partial' and alignment means 'keep in line'."

Following Mr Varadkar's comments the DUP accused him of "politicking".

The party's deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, said: "Mr Varadkar continues to make incomplete commentary around the agreement reached last week. He should stop politicking ahead of his general election and start respecting the unionists of Northern Ireland."

Mr Dodds insisted that as a result of the text of the agreement reached last week between the EU and the UK "Northern Ireland will not just leave the European Union along with the rest of the United Kingdom but it will leave the single market and the customs union along with the rest of the United Kingdom".

He added: "There will be no so-called 'special status' forcing Northern Ireland to stay inside the EU.

"The agreement last week makes it clear that the UK remains committed to preserving the integrity of its internal market and Northern Ireland's place within it, as it leaves the EU's internal market and customs union."