Tuesday 23 July 2019

'EU may be prepared to change Brexit red lines if UK does the same,' says Varadkar

Statement: A painting depicting a workman chipping away at a star on the EU flag by artist Banksy in the southern England port town of Dover. Photo: Getty
Statement: A painting depicting a workman chipping away at a star on the EU flag by artist Banksy in the southern England port town of Dover. Photo: Getty
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has offered an olive branch to Westminster, suggesting the EU may be prepared to change red lines on the future relationship if Britain did the same.

He speculated that some changes to the British position may emerge if there are a series of votes in the UK on different options. But he said that if it emerged that MPs were prepared to evolve their positions on the customs union or single market, the EU would also consider it's own red lines on the future relationship with the UK.

The Taoiseach was in Bavaria, Germany, to address the Christian Social Union (CSU) conference, where he described Brexit as a "traumatic" divorce.

"People often say that a divorce can be like a death in the family. It can also bring those left behind closer together," he said.

"The Brexit divorce has at times been traumatic, but it has not proven fatal to the European family."

The debate on British Prime Minister Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement with the EU is set to kick off in the House of Commons again next week.

She is facing an uphill battle to get the deal through Parliament amid opposition to the so-called backstop to avoid a hard Border in Ireland.

Mrs May is facing accusations that she is trying to scare MPs into backing the EU Withdrawal Agreement with an "apocalyptic" vision of what would happen in a no-deal Brexit.

In a report aimed at debunking "myths" about leaving the EU on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms, Lord Lilley, the former trade secretary, said the Government was trying to "play up the supposed horrors" of leaving the EU ahead of this month's parliamentary vote on the deal.

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar said the backstop is not up for renegotiation, but suggested there could be changes to the political declaration on the future relationship if a clearer picture of what London wants emerges in a series of votes on different options within the next two weeks.

Mr Varadkar admitted that "speculation is dangerous in this kind of territory" and said his preferred option is for the Withdrawal Agreement to be ratified in the upcoming House of Commons vote. But he also said that he understood there may be a series of votes as the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, is able to select a number of motions.

Mr Varadkar said that if the Brexit deal is rejected, the motions that actually passed would have to be looked at to see if there was a majority for anything.

"I think what we have always said is that if the United Kingdom were to evolve from its red lines the European Union could as well," he said.

"If they decide they want to stay in the single market or they want to stay in the customs union, in those circumstances I think the European Union would evolve its position as well."

He suggested the political declaration could be amended as a result of such a move in the House of Commons.

He added that it's "all speculation" and "while it is unclear where exactly the United Kingdom stands, it is absolutely, abundantly clear where Ireland and the European Union stands".

Mr Varadkar said: "It's always been the position of the European Union and it's there in the guidelines that if the United Kingdom were to change its red lines then we'd be happy to talk to them about that.

"Bear in mind they decided very early on they weren't just leaving the European Union.

"They were leaving the customs union and the single market and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Obviously if the UK were to turn around and say that they have changed their mind on those issues we wouldn't say 'sorry it's too late'.

"Nobody in the European Union has ever closed the door on the United Kingdom, if they were to rethink their position on this.

"We still regret the fact they decided to leave, we respect that they've decided to leave but if they were to decide to stay or if they were to decide to have a closer relationship than was previously indicated I think that would be very welcome."

With just days to go before next week's meaningful vote on her deal and with the countdown to the March 29 Brexit date being counted in days, Mrs May also spoke with both the French President Emanuel Macron and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Irish Independent

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