Wednesday 23 October 2019

‘It’s all up to the UK to salvage Brexit now,’ says Varadkar

EU and Taoiseach pile pressure on Britain to come forward with its final demands

Won’t budge on position: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with pupils from Our Lady Immaculate, Darndale, Dublin, during the Government’s launch of the Action Plan for Education 2019 yesterday. Photo: PA
Won’t budge on position: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with pupils from Our Lady Immaculate, Darndale, Dublin, during the Government’s launch of the Action Plan for Education 2019 yesterday. Photo: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has thrown down the gauntlet to the UK to come up with a workable solution to the Brexit impasse before it's too late to stop a no-deal scenario.

With talks in Brussels running into difficulty, the Taoiseach said Ireland had offered everything it can to help the situation.

His position is backed up by EU chiefs who are also piling the pressure on Britain ahead of a nervy weekend of talks.

The "difficult" discussions are now expected to go down to the wire - but UK Prime Minister Theresa May will need something to present to her parliament at least 24 hours before the so-called 'meaningful vote' takes place on Tuesday.

Frustration is mounting on both sides with Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, reportedly complaining the UK had produced "a legal solution to a political problem".

Mr Varadkar indicated Ireland will not budge when it comes to the legal definition of the backstop contained in the Withdrawal Agreement.

The 'Irish Protocol' outlines how the EU and UK customs regulations will remain closely aligned in order to prevent a hard Border "unless and until" an alternative way of achieving this is found.

However, UK attorney general Geoffrey Cox warned MPs this could see the country "trapped" indefinitely and limit the scope for striking new trade deals around the world.

Heading back to Brussels: UK attorney general Geoffrey Cox said the UK’s proposals “are as clear as day”. Photo: REUTERS
Heading back to Brussels: UK attorney general Geoffrey Cox said the UK’s proposals “are as clear as day”. Photo: REUTERS

Asked what concessions Ireland could make to ease British concerns, Mr Varadkar expressed surprise that people were calling on his Government to give any further ground. "I often wonder why people are asking us to make further concessions, we've made a lot of concessions already - accepting a UK-wide element to the backstop when we only ever wanted it to be Northern Ireland specific.

"We never asked to tie-in Britain into any of these arrangements. We've already agreed to a review clause and a good faith clause," he said.

"This problem of Brexit, a hard Border on our island with disruption to trade and our economy, these are problems created in Britain.

"Surely they are the ones who should be coming forward with further concessions and further offers to us in terms of what more they can do to mitigate the damage they are creating."

The Irish Independent revealed yesterday that a 'package of measures' is being teased out in Brussels, including a timeline for assessing alternatives to the backstop.

But sources say the deadlock is far from being broken.

The European Commission confirmed "technical talks" were continuing and said president Jean-Claude Juncker was "available 24/7" to meet Mrs May if a deal was close.

In the Commons, Mr Cox said the talks would "almost certainly" carry on through the weekend. He and the Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay are thought likely to return to Brussels today.

Downing Street hopes a deal can be reached by Sunday night, with the possibility of the prime minister travelling to Brussels on Monday morning to sign off on the deal.

Mr Cox told MPs he was continuing to press for legally binding changes to the backstop, something the EU categorically ruled out long before the current round of discussions began. He rejected claims that the Government had again failed to come forward with concrete proposals, insisting there had been "focused, detailed and careful discussions".

"We are discussing text with the European Union," he said.

"I am surprised to hear the comments that have emerged over the last 48 hours that the proposals are not clear. They are as clear as day and we are continuing to discuss them."

Meanwhile, Britain has agreed to a deal which ensures flights to and from the EU would continue after Brexit, even if it leaves without a deal.

The UK government has agreed to match an offer by the European Union to protect flying rights for 12 months after March 29.

Irish Independent

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